The HardballTalk Season Preview

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Opening Day is upon us.  Well, one of them anyway. We had one in Japan last week. And then the Cardinals-Marlins game and then more staggered Opening Days across Thursday and Friday. It’s all a conspiracy, you know. The red, white and blue decorative bunting industry and its high-powered lobbyists are what made that happen. More “Opening Days” means more of those banners and that means more money for Big Bunting. Alas.

But baseball is back, and that’s good. And to hold you over until the Cardinals and Marlins face off, here are links to all 30 of HardballTalk’s Springtime Storyline posts.  Read all of these and you’ll be able to talk intelligently about every team in the game.

Unless the predictions are all wrong, of course. In which case this will still be useful as a quick-reference for our collective ignorance and folly.  We believe, however, that we did a pretty darn good job with these.

AL EAST

Are the Yankees the best team in baseball?

Does anyone remember that the Boston Red Sox were really good last year?

Do the Tampa Bay Rays have the best rotation in baseball?

Have Toronto Blue Jays brought in enough help for Jose Bautista?

Can Dan Duquette lead the Orioles out of the wildnerness?

 

AL CENTRAL

Can anyone in the AL Central beat the Detroit Tigers?

Will the Cleveland Indians build on last season or take a step backward?

Are the Kansas City Royals finally ready to contend?

Are the Chicago White Sox rebuilding or contending?

Can the Minnesota Twins get back on track after 99 losses?

 

AL WEST

Can the Rangers win the AL once again?

Did the Angels buy themselves the A.L. West?

Who are the Oakland Athletics?

Can the Seattle Mariners score any runs?

 

NL EAST

Are the Phillies still a juggernaut?

Will standing pat get the Braves back to the playoffs?

Are the Marlins the most interesting team in baseball?

Are the Nationals ready to contend?

 How long will the Mets spend in baseball purgatory?

 

NL CENTRAL

Will the St. Louis Cardinals survive the loss of three legends?

Is there life after Prince Fielder in baseball’s smallest market?

Have the Reds built themselves a World Series contender?

Are the Pittsburgh Pirates getting any closer to breaking .500?

How will year one of the Cubs’ rebuilding plan fly in The Friendly Confines?

What will the Astros’ final year in the National League look like?

 

NL WEST

Was 2011 a fluke for the Arizona Diamondbacks?

Are the San Francisco Giants going to give Brandon Belt a chance?

Will the Rockies make us all look like suckers again?

How long until new ownership puts the magic back in the Los Angeles Dodgers?

What did the Mat Latos deal do for the San Diego Padres?

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.