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Without qualifying offer draft picks, MLB could be 'the freest free agency in sports'

Sunday’s Say Hey, Baseball includes more on CBA negotiations, hot stove buzz and weird Mariners merch.

World Series - Cleveland Indians v Chicago Cubs - Game Three Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Listen, we know it’s tough to catch up on everything happening in the baseball world each morning. There are all kinds of stories, rumors, game coverage and Vines of dudes getting hit in the beans every day. Trying to find all of it while on your way to work or sitting at your desk just isn’t easy. It’s OK, though. We’re going to do the heavy lifting for you each morning, and find the things you need to see from within the SB Nation baseball network, as well as from elsewhere. Please hold your applause until the end, or at least until after you subscribe to the newsletter.

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For the first time in five days, MLB negotiators and Players Association leaders will be back for discussion around the bargaining table today. If the two sides can’t hammer out a new collective bargaining agreement by Dec. 1 —that’s this Thursday — then the possibility of a lockout looms large.

While the past five days haven’t held any official interaction between the union and the league, there’s been plenty in the way of minor news and major rumors. As the two sides went their separate ways for this week’s break, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported that a lockout was a real possibility, with particular contention around proposals for an international draft and major changes to draft pick compensation in free agency.

Next came a report from ESPN’s Jayson Stark saying that while there was a chance for a lockout, there had been enough progress before Thanksgiving to be optimistic about avoiding such a fate. And now, as negotiations start back up again with five days until the deadline, an update from Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports notes that divides on the international draft and the qualifying offer system remain deep, and essentially anything can happen.

An anonymous source for Heyman’s piece refers to a hypothetical new world without the qualifying offer draft pick as "the freest free agency in sports." In American sports, at least, this is probably true. While the limited use of the qualifying offer means that the practice of draft picks as direct compensation affects just a handful of players each year, it’s a veritable barrier that keeps MLB’s free agency from being completely free.

Since the current qualifying offer system was established in 2012, each year has brought debate on how much a player’s value is handicapped by the draft pick attached to him, and some players have discussed it directly — Jeremy Hellickson, for instance, said he had been leaning toward turning down the Phillies’ qualifying offer before finding himself weighed down too much by the draft pick attached to him. To get rid of that would be to create a free agency system that lives up to its name, at least in principle. But as negotiations stand now, the asking price is high, and there are days yet before the deadline.