Murray Chass made a brief return to the New York Times, and it’s quite welcome indeed

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Many have mocked long-time New York Times baseball columnist Murray Chass since he left the Times a few years ago and began writing at his own website. After he kicked off his solo enterprise explaining how he was NOT a blogger and how bloggers are the worst and all of that, he has been called “The Blogger Murray Chass” around these and other parts.

And a good deal of his output over the past several years — including his seeming obsession with Mike Piazza’s back acne, his smearing of Stan Musial, and his reporting mistakes regarding Marvin Miller’s Hall of Fame candidacy — has revealed that the the mocking is quite often earned.

That said: Chass is among the absolute best when it comes to writing about baseball’s labor and business history. He is particularly well-versed and well-spoken when it comes to the labor battles of the 1970s and 80s. Which is why it was quite nice to see the New York Times ask him to write a column about the 1975 decision by arbitrator Peter Seitz in the McNally/Messersmith case which ushered in free agency. It ran late last week and is well worth your time.

It’s worth it for two reasons. First, because as Chass notes over at his blog, the Times (and almost everyone else, to be fair) tends to jumble the history of free agency in baseball, often citing the Curt Flood case or the instance in which Catfish Hunter was set free by the A’s to sign with the Yankees as the birth of free agency. In reality neither of those cases actually did anything, even if they are important historical touchstones in the larger story of baseball free agency. Flood lost his case. Hunter’s was a singular matter involving an insurance premium that created no actual precedent.

The second reason it’s worth it is because it shows that baseball’s arbitrators are almost certain to be fired whenever they make a big decision and that, because of that, they can’t really think too hard about who they’ll please or anger with any decision. This is why discussion of the upcoming Alex Rodriguez arbitration shouldn’t really focus on whether the arbitrator is worried about his job security.

Anyway: always nice to see Chass talking about the stuff he knows so much about.

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.