It came as no surprise when Daniel Murphy rejected the Mets’ one-year, $15.8 million offer last offseason. At the time, no player had ever accepted a “qualifying offer.”* Instead, Murphy tested the market and wound up with $37.5 million over three years from the Washington Nationals. If Murphy’s first half of 2016 is any indication, he made a mistake not accepting the Mets’ deal.
*On the same day Murphy rejected his, three players accepted theirs. Still, that made three acceptances out of 20 this past offseason, the only three to date for a clause in place since 2013.
If Murphy took the $15.8 million for this season and produced like he has been—a career-high 17 homers already, plus an MLB-best .348 batting average—he could be looking at a five-year, $80 million deal, give or take. That’s more than $95 million over six years. He’s not matching that with whatever deal he gets after his Washington contract expires in 2018 season (when he’s 33).
Many have tried to explain Murphy’s power surge, which began in last year’s playoffs. The premise is simple—Murph started punishing certain pitches instead of merely making contact—but the reality is 30-year-olds typically don’t become power hitters overnight without steroids. Murphy’s numbers this season indicate the playoffs were no fluke.
By rejecting the one-year deal, you could argue Murphy was betting on himself. And sure enough, he was offered a deal worth a lot more. But if he truly believed his memorable October was a breakthrough and not an aberration, he could made a bigger gamble and accepted the Mets’ deal. That’s sort of what Yoenis Cespedes did. When no team offered him a long-term contract, he re-signed with the Mets for three years and $75 million, with an opt-out after this season. If he keeps up his current pace, he’ll opt-out and surely get a hefty nine-figure deal. One of Murphy’s teammates, Max Scherzer, another late bloomer due to a minor adjustment, made the biggest gamble in sports contract history, turning down $144 million. He eventually signed for $210 million.
The Mets would love to have Murphy this season—the National League East standings would look a lot different if they did—but they are not a wealthy franchise. Signing Murphy to a multi-year deal likely would have prevented them from bringing back Cespedes. The Mets believe Dilson Herrera is the second baseman of the future and hoped Neil Walker could provide similar production to Murphy for less money. (Through April, it looked like they were right.) And they did make that qualifying offer, which at least netted them a bonus pick in the draft.
Back in November, Murphy viewed the qualifying offer as one that limited his total earnings potential. To the Mets, it was generous for only one year. It’s possible neither side is too happy with its decision.