Thirteen prospective free agents received official qualifying offers of $14.1 million by the deadline of November 4th. This is the new system that replaces the graded level free agents to ensure teams will receive some compensation from exiting free agents. Essentially, this was so players could be graded on their value in the following season, instead of the previous. The dollar amount is based on the average of the top 125 salaries in baseball. Of course, players like Joe Smith and Scott Kazmir, who would have brought in a later pick when becoming a free agent in the past, no longer can as the Indians (nor any other team) would give them more than $10M, let alone $14M.
The lie behind the offer is that no one will accept it. Teams are too careful with their money to make an offer like this to a player who would actually use it (like Kazmir). If a player is truly able to earn $14M a year, he is probably worth a multiyear contract, which is likely what all 13 players will be looking for. This is especially true of players like Ubaldo Jimenez, the Indians only qualifying free agent. He could have stayed for his original $9M mutual option and now could stay for the extra five million, but he won't. Jimenez, like everyone else in baseball, has at least some fear that his great second half of 2013, after four extremely poor seasons, was a fluke and wants to sign a multi-year deal to handcuff a team into paying him into retirement. If the Indians really wanted to keep him around, they could have offered him $30M for three years and he almost certainly would have stayed.
In general, teams that want players to stick around offer them long term deals. Ryan Raburn was a prospective free agent that the Indians did want to keep around, so they made him a two year deal with a team option which he immediately accepted. All three of the Indians big exiting free agents (Jimenez, Kazmir and Smith) probably would have accepted three year deals in their prospective ranges. They are all also extreme risks (because he has been bad more than good, because he just came back from injury and because he is a reliever) and the Indians obviously decided it was not a very good idea to saddle themselves with large, long-term contracts given to high risk players.
If further proof is needed that teams making the offer don't want to keep their players around (they just want the draft pick), only three of the nine players offered last season signed. Of these, all three didn't really deserve the amount they received, but Boston gave David Ortiz a home town boost, while the Yankees never cared about money. The other player was Adam LaRoche with Washington. This isn't groundbreaking news that teams may not want to/expect to keep their qualifying players, it does go against the new system. No one will offer Kazmir or Smith that much per season this offseason, yet they are still valuable free agents. If the Indians lose them, they should be compensated on their level instead of being forced to offer them inflated contracts.
The second part of the fallacy lies in the amount. Not only is it too high for players like Kazmir and Smith, but it is far too low for a player like Robinson Cano, who also received a qualifying offer. Cano is worth about $17M for any team, which equates to about $25M in Yankee money. He will also likely get at least a seven year deal, possibly as many as the ten years he asked New York for. A player that any team would be happy to give $150 million to has the same qualifying offer that Joe Smith, a single inning reliever, would need. Shin-Soo Choo is in the same ballpark, but will likely not bring in quite as much as Cano.
The old system was not perfect, with the graded free agent system, but this one is far worse. Supplemental draft picks are incredibly valuable, enough that no team signed Michael Bourn until the Indians did late last February. There is no team that wants Joe Smith as much as the Indians this off-season. Every team knows how good he is from his numbers, but there is also a personal connection with the Indians and the fact that he would finally get to close. If he signs anywhere else, it will simply be because the other team had more money than the Indians, which was the original purpose of awarded extra draft picks to teams losing free agents.
It will be interesting to see how many players take advantage of their minimum offers. Jimenez likely won't, but the Yankees and Red Sox each made offers to players significantly lower than that talent level (especially Hiroki Kuroda and Stephen Drew). In addition to those two, Ervin Santana and Kendrys Morales could use it and forgo the long-term deals. Chances are though, that it won't be any more than the past season.