Orioles continue to negotiate with No. 4 overall pick Kevin Gausman

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UPDATE: The Times-Picayune has backtracked from their original story. It now says that Gausman is “seriously considering” a return to LSU. Meanwhile, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America passes along this statement from LSU coach Paul Mainieri:

“Kevin is still in negotiations…any reports portraying his return to LSU as definite are premature.”

Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun was told by Orioles scouting director Gary Rajsich that the two sides are still talking and are “making progress.”

10:01 PM: We heard earlier today that No. 8 overall pick Mark Appel is leaning toward returning to Stanford for his senior season, but apparently the Pirates aren’t the only team having a tough time reaching an agreement with their first-round selection.

Albert Buford of the New Orleans Times-Picayune was told by a source that No. 4 overall pick right-hander Kevin Gausman will return to LSU for another season rather than sign with the Orioles.

Pretty surprising news, if true. Gausman’s quote in the report is far less definitive, though.

“This is turning out to be a tough decision, but as of now my heart is still with LSU,” Gausman said. “There are still things for me to accomplish as a Tiger.  I still want to play in and win the College World Series, and with a lot of guys coming back next year I believe we can do it.”

“I also believe I’ll only continue to improve and become a more complete pitcher working with (LSU pitching coach Alan Dunn) Gausman said. “I have no problem at all going back to LSU. We’ll see what happens.”

Carlos Correa, Byron Buxton and Mike Zunino have already signed with their respective teams, so Gausman is the highest remaining unsigned pick from this year’s draft. Ironically, the Orioles passed over the chance to take Appel by selecting Gausman.

The slot recommendation for the No. 4 overall pick is $4.2 million, so Gausman would be passing up a large chunk of change to return for his junior season. As such, this is likely a matter of Gausman’s reps putting the pressure on with Friday’s 5:00 p.m. ET deadline looming. Of course, because the new CBA limits draft spending, the Orioles can only offer so much without losing next year’s first-round pick.

Evan Longoria: ‘I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base’

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The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.

Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.

Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”

Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.

The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.