Report: Terry Francona, Red Sox likely to part ways

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Stunning news tonight this morning out of Boston.

According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, manager Terry Francona is expected to leave the Red Sox organization after a meeting Friday morning with upper management. Allow Rosenthal to explain:

While Francona’s departure is not certain, it is the likely outcome, in part because he is pressing for a resolution, sources say. He would not be fired; the Red Sox would simply decline their club options on him for 2012 and ’13.

Francona and Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein gave no indication that such a major move was coming during their season-wrapping press conference Thursday afternoon at Boston’s Fenway Park.

But something obviously sparked a change within the past several hours.

Perhaps Francona has his eyes on the White Sox’s vacancy. He did coach in their minor league system for five years, at one point serving as skipper to Michael Jordan during the NBA superstar’s short stint with the Birmingham Barons. Or maybe he’ll be swayed by the Nationals, who seem ready to spend big money.

Then again, maybe this wasn’t Francona’s call. “Red Sox Nation” has been seeking out a scapegoat since the club’s historic collapse went final Wednesday night in Baltimore. And the Boston media has egged that blame game on since the middle of this month. It seems insane to give up on a manager who has played a role in securing two World Series titles in the past eight years. And it’s especially insane for a franchise like the Red Sox, who hadn’t won anything since 1918 before Francona stepped aboard. But these are insane times.

The Red Sox’ sad and frustrating September collapse just shifted gears into the realm of tragedy.

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UPDATE, 12:57am: According to White Sox beat writer Daryl Van Schouwen of the Chicago Sun-Times, it’s Francona who wants out. “He has had his fill of the whole thing,’’ a source told the paper.

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.