That offer, based on a subset of the top player salaries in the league and meant to protect teams against the departure of elite free agents, is set by Major League Baseball as a one-year deal worth $17.9 million. It “qualifies” a team to receive draft pick compensation for top free agents by declaring at least $17.9 million of interest in keeping that player, and it officially ensures that if a player leaves, his former team will receive something in return. In the Nationals’ case, because they crossed the Competitive Balance Tax threshold in 2018, they will receive a fourth-round choice — a pick somewhere in the mid-to-late 100s.
That the Nationals made him this offer means only one thing about Harper’s future with the team — that the sides did not come to an agreement when they had exclusive negotiating rights, which is not surprising. Harper’s agent, Scott Boras, has a history of taking his big-name free agents to test the free agent market.
The Nationals are not necessarily out of the running. Making a qualifying offer to Harper means only that General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff acknowledge the possibility that Harper could go elsewhere and are protecting themselves accordingly.
No one else on the Nationals roster is a candidate for a qualifying offer. A player cannot receive an offer if he has received one before, so even potential candidate Daniel Murphy could not have received an offer had he remained a National all season. Murphy received a qualifying offer from the New York Mets before signing with the Nationals. Players who are dealt midseason are not eligible for qualifying offers, so Murphy is doubly ineligible, as are all the future free agents the Nationals traded away, though none of them seemed likely to receive an offer so high anyway.
Among potential Nationals targets, Diamondbacks starter Patrick Corbin, Astros starter Dallas Keuchel, Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, and Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrell all received qualifying offers. Because the Nationals crossed the luxury tax threshold this year, they are subject to the highest draft pick penalty (not a first-rounder, but one that would all but cancel out a fourth-round pick they receive for Harper) if they sign a free agent who turned down the qualifying offer. Potential targets who did not receive a qualifying offer include second baseman D.J. LeMahieu, reliever Andrew Miller and infielder Jed Lowrie.