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The Major League Baseball Players Association just released, in conjunction with the commissioner's office, an announcement that there would be changes to the free-agent system this winter.

The most interesting one is that the exclusive bargaining period between the player and his former club has been reduced from 15 days after the World Series to five.

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That could be significant for a team like, say, the Washington Nationals, which are trying to tie up Adam Dunn before the vultures swoop in.

For the Orioles, who have seven pending free agents, this doesn't seem like that big of a deal, this year anyway. President of baseball operations Andy MacPhail has already said he expects each of the club's pending free agents to test the market.

In other words, he wasn't planning on re-signing any of them during the exclusive negotiating period anyway. He wants to see what's out there for the Orioles as well as letting his free agents – specifically Ty Wigginton, Koji Uehara, Cesar Izturis and Corey Patterson—explore their options before meeting to talk contract.

Some of the other changes include eliminating the need to file for free agency (a formality) and moving up the deadlines for offering arbitration and non-tendering players. There had been a lot of grousing from players about how long the free-agent process had dragged. Most want to know where they'll be playing by Christmas and that wasn't happening anymore.

There's also a provision restricting the abilities of all involved to negotiate through the media. Specifics haven't been announced on that one, but here's a prediction: It's not going to make those of us who cover baseball particularly happy.

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