Last time the Orioles were in the playoffs …

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OK, so by now we’ve all heard plenty about how the Orioles are back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997. October 15, 1997 to be exact, when they lost 1-0 to the Indians in Game 6 of the ALCS on a Tony Fernandez homer off Armando Benitez in the 11th inning.

I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at the boxscore from that game. First of all, the starting pitchers were Mike Mussina for the Orioles and Charles Nagy for the Indians, which is more than enough to get a kid who grew up watching baseball in the 1990s giddy.

And here are the lineups:

   CLEVELAND INDIANS               BALTIMORE ORIOLES
1. Omar Vizquel, SS             1. Brady Anderson, CF
2. Tony Fernandez, 2B           2. Roberto Alomar, 2B
3. Manny Ramirez, RF            3. Geronimo Berroa, RF
4. David Justice, DH            4. Harold Baines, DH
5. Matt Williams, 3B            5. Rafael Palmeiro, 1B
6. Jim Thome, 1B                6. Cal Ripken Jr., 3B
7. Sandy Alomar, C              7. B.J. Surhoff, LF
8. Brian Giles, LF              8. Chris Hoiles, C
9. Marquis Grissom, CF          9. Mike Bordick, SS

I mean, where to even start?

Well, first of all Jim Thome batted sixth and played first base for the Indians that day. And tonight, 15 years later, he’ll play for the Orioles.

Omar Vizquel, who led off for the Indians then, just played his final game Wednesday. Sandy Alomar, who caught for the Indians then, just interviewed this week to be the Indians’ new manager. And his brother, Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar, played second base for the Orioles then.

Brian Giles, who hit eighth for Cleveland, later went on to be one of the elite hitters in the NL for the Pirates. Brady Anderson, who had 50 homers the previous year, batted leadoff in a Davey Johnson-managed Baltimore lineup that had Rafael Palmeiro fifth and Cal Ripken Jr. sixth.

Oh, and here’s a list of some players who appeared off the bench or out of the bullpen: Eric Davis, Jeffrey Hammonds, Jerome Walton, Lenny Webster, Jose Mesa, Randy Myers, Paul Assenmacher, Mike Jackson.

I’m going to force myself to stop now because I could seriously just stare at the boxscore from now until the Cardinals-Braves game starts tonight and be perfectly happy.

UPDATE: MLB.com has video of Fernandez’s game-winning homer off Benitez:

Thanks to Jake Silver for digging up the video.

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.