Can the Texas bullpen hold up?

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Going into Wednesday’s games, 10 American League relievers had made at least 22 appearances. Five of them happen to pitch for the same team:
1. Will Ohman (Orioles) – 25
2. Daniel Bard (Red Sox) – 24
2. Neftali Feliz (Rangers) – 24
2. Chris Ray (Rangers) – 24
5. Scott Downs (Blue Jays) – 23
6. Randy Choate (Rays) – 22
6. Phil Coke (Tigers) – 22
6. Frank Francisco (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren O’Day (Rangers) – 22
6. Darren Oliver (Rangers) – 22
With 46 games in the books, five Rangers relievers are on pace to appear in about 80 games. A sixth, Dustin Nippert, has appeared in 19 games and thrown 24 2/3 innings, so while he hasn’t been as used as often, he’s on pace to throw 87 innings in relief.
Breakdowns are almost certainly on the way. Feliz, who was handled so carefully after being moved to the pen last year, is on 86-inning pace. Francisco has a history of arm problems and has never thrown more than 63 1/3 innings as a major leaguer. He’s on pace for 73 right now.
Ray, in his second year back from Tommy John surgery, hasn’t put in a full season since 2006. O’Day was given up on by the Angels two years ago because of a shoulder injury.
Oliver has a track record of durability, but his current 83-inning pace would be a new career high for him as a reliever. He threw 72 and 73 innings in his last two years with the Angels. The appearances might be more of an issue here than the innings. The Angels tended to give him longer appearances than the Rangers have. He appeared in 54 games in 2008 and 63 last year. Right now, he’s on pace for 77 appearances.
The Rangers do have fallbacks on the way. Matt Harrison, who opened the year in the rotation, is going to try his hand at relieving after returning from a case of biceps tendinitis. And top prospect Tanner Scheppers could be this year’s Feliz if he’s needed in a setup role later this year.
Still, manager Ron Washington is walking a dangerous path. In doing so much mixing and matching of O’Day, Ray and Oliver based on matchups, he’s given them workloads they’re simply not accustomed to. If he’s going to keep those guys healthy, he’ll have to start winning some games while using only two or three of his best relievers, rather than four or five.

Report: Qualifying offer to be in the $18 million range

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According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, teams have been told that the qualifying offer to free agents this offseason will be in the $18 million range, likely $18.1 million. The value is derived by taking the average of the top 125 player salaries.

At $18.1 million, that would be $900,000 more than the previous QO, which was $17.2 million. This will impact soon-to-be free agents like Jake Arrieta, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Yu Darvish, among others. That also assumes that the aforementioned players aren’t traded, which would make them ineligible to receive qualifying offers. We’ve seen, increasingly, that teams aren’t willing to make a QO to an impending free agent and that trend is likely to continue this offseason.

The QO system was modified by the newest collective bargaining agreement. The compensatory pick for a team losing a player who declined a QO used to be a first-round pick. That was a penalty to both teams and players, which is why it was changed. Via MLB’s website pertaining to the QO:

A team that exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season will lose its second- and fifth-highest selections after the first round in the following year’s Draft as well $1 million from its international bonus pool. If such a team signs multiple qualifying offer free agents, it will forfeit its third- and sixth-highest remaining picks as well.

A team that receives revenue sharing will lose its third-highest selection after the first round in the following year’s Draft. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its fourth-highest remaining pick.

A team that neither exceeded the luxury tax in the preceding season nor receives revenue sharing will lose its second-highest selection after the first round in the following year’s Draft as well as $500,000 from its international bonus pool. If it signs two such players, it will also forfeit its third-highest remaining pick.

Additionally, if a player who rejected a QO signs a guaranteed contract worth at least $50 million and came from a team that receives revenue sharing, that previous team will receive a compensatory pick immediately following the first round in the ensuing draft. If the contract is less than $50 million, that team will get a compensatory pick after Competitive Balance Round B. If the player’s team is over the luxury tax threshold, that team will receive a compensation pick following the fourth round. If that team neither exceeded the luxury tax nor receives revenue sharing, the compensation pick will come after Competitive Balance Round B.

Yeah, it’s a bit convoluted, but you do the best you can with a flawed system.

The Astros’ pursuit of Sonny Gray is “heating up”

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Jon Morosi of MLB Networks reports that talks are “heating up” between the Astros and Athletics on a Sonny Gray trade. Gray, obviously, would represent a big upgrade for the Astros’ rotation. He has a 3.66 ERA and has struck out 85 batters while walking 28 in 91 innings.

Morosi adds that Gray is not the only option for the Astros, as they are also talking to the Tigers about a potential acquisition of Justin Verlander and Justin Wilson. That would obviously be a much tougher deal to negotiate given Verlander’s 10/5 rights giving him veto power over any trade, not to mention the massive amount of money he’s still owed on his contract.

Also: I’m pretty sure that it’s in the MLB rules that any trade between the Tigers and the Astros has to involve Brad Ausmus, C.J. Nitkowski and Jose Lima, and that’s not possible given their current occupations and/or their deaths in 2010.