Keith Law rips the Orioles’ offseason moves

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I’ve been asked about the Orioles offseason a lot.  My standard answer is that while I still have a hard time seeing them finish in anything but last place due to how brutal the division is, I do think they have improved themselves and will be a better team this year. They could win 80 games, which is pretty spiffy compared to what happened last year.  As Steve Melewski reports, my friend Keith Law isn’t as ho-hum about it as I am:

There is clearly a lot of excitement and anticipation for the 2011 Orioles season. Some of the national media has given the team some props lately.

But ESPN.com’s Keith Law won’t make that list.

In a phone conversation yesterday afternoon, Law told me he felt certain the O’s had little chance to even be a .500 team this year. He also was very critical of Vlad Guerrero and Mark Reynolds and of many of the moves the club has made this offseason.

What follows are a lot of very Keith Law quotes about the state of the O’s.  And I agree with Law on the 85 wins thing — the math just doesn’t work in that division — but Keith is way way more critical of the O’s moves than I am.  Specifically the signing of Vlad Guerrero and Mark Reynolds.

I get where he’s coming from, but from where I’m sitting I don’t agree that his chief complaint regarding the Vlad signing — that it takes away from Nolan Reimold and Felix Pie’s development — is that critical.  Neither of them are spring chickens.  If they rake in AAA, it’s not like Guerrero is so immovable on his one-year deal that a place can’t be made for them or that they can’t be traded for something worth a damn.  I feel the same way about the money spent on Guerrero, which Keith says should be reserved for a loaded 2011 draft.  Yes, the draft is way more important than Vlad, but it may not be an either/or situation. They could still pay what is necessary to get the best talent possible in the draft with Guerrero in the fold. It depends on how they budget. Maybe they are poised to spend a bit more now than they did in years past.

I would agree with Keith that the incremental improvements the O’s made this winter aren’t the things long-term plans are made of.  But that’s only bad if the moves foreclose the possibility of making the sorts of changes that do fit in a sound long term plan.  In the meantime, there is some value to making the team into one that fans who watch 100 games a year can better stomach than the version they’ve watched the past few years.  Derrek Lee, Vlad Guerrero and Mark Reynolds aren’t going to be a part of the next contending Orioles team, but they are far more easy to stomach than the guys they’ve trotted out recently.

And more importantly, they aren’t preventing that next contending Orioles team from coming together.

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.