When MLB's current CBA was announced in the fall of 2011, it presented several changes to the entire free agent process. The Qualifying Offer was supposed to be a great equalizer for baseball. In the old system, teams just offered their best players arbitration, and if the player accepted, the two sides went to court. That was a lousy system, which forced the teams into the uncomfortable position of arguing that the guy they offered arbitration to was a bad player. It was awkward and weird, and the QO was supposed to improve things.
But the qualifying offer has just wound up a different kind of weird. Instead, no free agent will accept it. And because no teams are willing to give up a draft pick for one of the mediocre free agents, the QO becomes a 21st century version of the reserve clause. So the Stephen Drews and the Kendrys Moraleses of the world are left to languish in a sort of free agent purgatory, where no one wants to give up a draft pick for them, so if they're going to come close to earning their value they have to re-sign with their previous team.
The problem is that the qualifying offer is just too dang low.
The price has to be low enough that truly elite players are still willing to take a multi-year offer on the open market, and high enough that more mediocre players will still occasionally accept. This year, Morales and Drew both signed for between 50% and 75% of the qualifying offer. Other mid-level free agents like Jhonny Peralta and Carlos Beltran signed for the same amount as the QO over four years.
From an economic standpoint, if most free agents can match the current qualifying offer over guaranteed multiple years, MLB needs to make it more enticing for at least a few of those free agents to accept.
The 2014 QO has been set at $15.3 million, but that's obviously not enough. That's the average of the top 125 contracts by AAV. To get it up towards 150% of that, we'd have to cut that 125 down towards the top 40, and drive the QO over the $20 million mark, but that's still not going to entice any of the top free agents.
No player accepted the qualifying offer after the 2012 season, and no player accepted the qualifying offer after the 2013 season. And if history repeats itself and no one accepts this year, MLB needs to do something drastic. The first step is to re-introduce the Type A and B system to distinguish the Robinson Canos from the Stephen Drews. The second step is to raise the qualifying offer amount to the average of the top 50 or so contracts for the Type B free agents and to 150% of that average for Type A free agents, even if it means that a Cano or a Max Scherzer has the chance to consider a one-year, $30 million offer.