As free agency opens Saturday morning, there is one change that will decide how teams receive compensation draft picks for free agents who sign with other teams.

Teams have had a five-day window that began Monday -- the day after the end of the World Series -- to negotiate exclusively with their free agents. That window ends at the end of tonight, thus officially opening the free-agent season.


In the past, free agents were rated by Elias, which determined what kind of picks a team would receive if it lost a free agent after offering him arbitration.

Teams now have the opportunity to make their free agents a "qualifying offer," which has been determined to be a one-year, $13.3 million deal. That number comes from an average of the top 125 contracts across baseball. This allows teams to put the value on their own free agents.

Clubs have until 5 p.m. today to make qualifying offers, and free agents have a week to decide whether to accept them. They accept and they are signed for that amount, they don't and they hit the open market. But most players in that range would likely seek multi-year deals on the open market.

The $13.3 million price tag will mean that fewer compensation picks will go out -- at the most maybe 10 -- and it also benefits big-market teams willing to throw large amounts of money at their free agents.

Among the Orioles' free agents, they will likely only pursue three: outfielder Nate McLouth, right-hander Joe Saunders and designated hitter Jim Thome.

The Orioles can not make a qualifying offer for any of the three because they were all in-season acquisitions. Only players who have been on a team all season are eligible for qualifying offers.

Even if they were eligible, none of the three would truly rank as an option for that $13.3 million offer. They could all be had on the free-agent market for much cheaper.

But still expect the Orioles to make a strong push for McLouth and Sanders. Both were key cogs to the Orioles' late-season success and both appeared open to returning. Thome has yet to say whether he's going to return this season.

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