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Your guide to the off-season: Important dates, rules, and things to know

Its only the second day, and the off-season seems too long.

David Manning-USA TODAY Sports

The off-season is officially upon us, which means we can start looking at how the Royals will win a championship in 2015. Here is your official guide to the off-season.

Dates to know:

October 30 - Eligible players can file for free agency.

This was yesterday. As of now, James Shields, Nori Aoki, Jason Frasor, Josh Willingham, Luke Hochevar, Raul Ibanez, and Scott Downs are free agents. Billy Butler will join them if the Royals decline is $12.5 million club option (by paying a $1 million buyout). The Royals will have an exclusive negotiating window to try to re-sign them for a few days. Here is a list of eligible free agents.

November 3 - Deadline for teams to make a qualifying offer to eligible free agents.

Clubs can offer free agents a one-year $15.3 million Qualifying Offer. If the player accepts, he is bound for the 2015 season at that salary (unless they negotiate a new contract). If the player declines, the club can receive a draft compensatory pick in 2015 if that player signs elsewhere. Qualifying Offers can not be offered to players acquired mid-season, like Willingham and Frasor.

November 4 - Free Agents are free to sign with new clubs.

The exclusive window to negotiate with free agents ends on November 4 and free agents are free to sign with anyone they wish.

November 10 - Deadline for free agents to accept or decline qualifying offer

If a player declines the Qualifying Offer, the team is still free to negotiate a deal with him.

November 10-13 - General Manager Meetings in Phoenix, Arizona

General Managers meet up and usually lay the groundwork for trades, although there isn't typically a ton of activity during these meetings. See this NY Post article on "what happens at the General Manager meetings?"

November 20 - Deadline to protect players for Rule 5 Draft

The Rule 5 Draft, held in December, is a draft to prevent teams from hoarding minor league players. By November 20, teams must add Rule 5-eligible players to their 40 man-roster or risk exposing them to the Rule 5 Draft. A player is eligible if he signed at age 19 or older and has played in professional baseball for four years, or if he signed at 18 and has played for five years. Brian Fletcher, Brett Eibner, Whit Merrifield, and Jorge Bonifacio are some of the players that are Rule 5-eligible this winter. See "About the Rule 5 Draft."

December 2 - Deadline to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players

Players that are arbitration-eligible (typically three years of service time, although some qualify with less under "Super Two" status, but no more than six years of service time) must be tendered a contract by December 2, or else they become free agents. If a player is tendered a contract, the player can accept the tender or reject the tender. Accepting the tender binds the player to a one-year contract at those terms. If they reject the tender, they are still bound to the club, but they are free to negotiate a contract, or head to an arbitration hearing. See "Understanding Major League Baseball's Arbitration System." Players that are not tendered a contract are referred to as being "non-tendered" and are free agents.

The Royals have nine arbitration-eligible players: Lorenzo Cain, Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, Danny Duffy, Jarrod DysonKelvin Herrera, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, and Mike Moustakas.

December 8-11 - Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tennessee

This is where General Managers meet and the most off-season activity typically occurs. Wheeling and dealing takes place, agents sell their free agents, and tons of people wander around the hotel looking for jobs in baseball.

Its also where this happened.

December 11 - Rule 5 Draft

On the last day of the Winter Meetings, the General Managers will hold the Rule 5 Draft as mentioned above. Past Rule 5 picks for the Royals have included outfielder Rich Thompson, pitcher Miguel Asencio, and pitcher Joakim Soria.

January 16 - Deadline to exchange arbitration figures

If an arbitration-eligible player has been tendered a contract, January 16 is the deadline for the club to offer a salary figure, and for the player to counter with his salary figure. The arbitrator must then determine which salary to choose, and cannot split the difference. Players and clubs can still negotiate on a contract and avoid the arbitration hearing, which is usually scheduled in the next week or two following this deadline. The Royals have successfully avoided having a single arbitration hearing since Dayton Moore took over.

February 20 - Pitchers and catchers report.

This hasn't officially been announced yet, but according to Kelvin Herrera, pitchers and catchers report February 20 in Surprise, Arizona. The full club reports a few days later. Baseball is back.

March 8 - First spring training game? - Royals vs. Angels

This hasn't officially been announced yet either, but the Angels have released their schedule and this is one of the first games that shows up.

April 6 - Opening Day

The Kansas City Royals host the Chicago White Sox from Kauffman Stadium. An American League Champions flag will rise. Fans will cheer. Baseball will be back. Here is your 2015 Kansas City Royals regular season schedule.

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

-A. Bartlett Giamatti