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December 9, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Collect Qualls [UPDATED]

by R.J. Anderson, Jeff Moore and Bret Sayre

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

HOUSTON ASTROS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed RHP Chad Qualls to a two-year deal worth $6 million with an option worth $3.5 million [12/7]

Jeff Luhnow continued his busy week, in which he traded for Dexter Fowler and penned Scott Feldman, with the kind of addition that was noticeably absent last winter. Rather than stock their bullpen with cheap veterans in 2013, the Astros settled for Jose Veras and Josh Fields (via the rule 5 draft), and otherwise leaned on waiver-wire acquisitions and minor-league types. Unsurprisingly, Houston's relief corps finished with the worst ERA in the majors and had just one reliever appear in more than 50 games, the lowest total in the league*.

*The Giants, Pirates, Reds, and Indians led the league with six apiece.

Committing two years and $6 million to a 35-year-old reliever with a below-average ERA+ in two of his past four seasons seems like questionable decision science, but there is reason to believe Qualls can perform decently heading forward. While toiling in relative anonymity in Miami last season, he altered his mechanics and improved his slider, giving him a complement for his mid-90s sinker. Qualls posted a groundball rate north of 60 percent last season, and though the Astros were one of the league's worst at turning grounders into outs, it's hard to say how much of that is poor fielding versus poor pitching.

On paper, this deal looks a bit like last year's Veras signing. The Astros tacked an option year on to that deal, too, and shipped Veras to Detroit halfway through the season. Whether this is another instance of Luhnow hitting up the Build-a-Closer workshop before Christmastime is to be determined, but it's not a given at this point; Houston is interested in a number of other relievers, one of whom might take the job. At worst Qualls, the former-turned-current Astro, can serve as a bridge to the day when Luhnow's drafts are producing worthwhile internal relief options.—R.J. Anderson

Fantasy

So who's going to be the closer for the Astros in 2014? If you answered "I have no freakin clue," step forward, you win a prize. It could be Josh Fields if he can find the plate. Or it could be Chia-Jen Lo, if he can find the plate. Or anyone else for that matter, if he can find the plate. However, there are three things we can feel pretty confident in here. First, Qualls had a pretty good year in 2013. Second, his 51 career saves are by far the most in the Astros' pen. Third, the Astros are likely to be looking to flip their closer at the deadline, as they did with Jose Veras in 2013. In any other bullpen, Qualls' signing would be greeted with a long, exaggerated yawn from a fantasy perspective. However, when any half-decent reliever signs with the Astros, we say "hello, sleeper for saves." —Bret Sayre

MIAMI MARLINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Signed 1B/OF Garrett Jones to a two-year, $7.5 million contract. [12/9]

For the second straight week, Miami has become a landing spot for a fringy starting position player better suited for a bench role, who would rather play every day for a bad team than part-time for a good one. It’s nice that the Marlins are around to fill this void.

After landing Rafael Furcal to play second base yesterday, the Marlins have signed former Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman/outfielder Garrett Jones to a deal that suggests that he will see significant playing time, given that he immediately becomes their third-highest-paid player for 2014. The left-handed-hitting Jones, however, has one of the more significant platoon splits in baseball, and has proven that he is a major league-caliber hitter only against right-handed pitching.

Jones is expected to continue to be platooned, and immediately becomes a mid-season trade candidate as an attractive bench option for a contender. The length of his contract could either help or hinder any effort to deal him, depending on how he plays in his first few months in Miami.

Jones was non-tendered by the Pirates because his arbitration salary, which would have been somewhere in the $5 million range, had outgrown his utility. Jones wasn’t as productive against right-handers this season and hit just .233/.289/.419 overall, which made him available to the Marlins. His $2.5 million salary for next season is more in line with what a platoon first baseman of his caliber should be making, but unless he gets back to his old ways, he won’t be terribly attractive to other teams at the trade deadline, who will then be on the hook for his $5 million salary in 2015.

The two-year deal is a bit of a surprise, but Jones landing with the Marlins is not. The signing likely signals the end of the Logan Morrison era in Miami, and Jones and his platoon partner should represent an upgrade over the black hole of first base production the Marlins got in 2013. It’s the kind of move the Marlins make because they have to at least pretend that they’re trying to field a legitimate team, though it will only affect how far out of fourth place they finish. —Jeff Moore

R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Jeff Moore is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jeff's other articles. You can contact Jeff by clicking here
Bret Sayre is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bret's other articles. You can contact Bret by clicking here

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