Chad Qualls (Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)
With the start of the season less than two weeks away, Bo Porter and the Houston Astros don’t fully know the answer to this question. I’m sure they have their ideas as to who should have the role, but nothing has been officially decided. However, that didn’t stop the staff here at Climbing Tal’s Hill from offering up our opinions.
Whoever starts the season will likely not end the year in that role. Of course the hope is that happens, but for a team in transition that is reality. To start the year, I think we need to go with experience. And that is Chad Qualls. This is not the exciting choice, or one that will ultimately make a difference in the Astros’ future plans, but it is the right move. In Qualls, the Astros have a veteran presence who has pitched in this role previously. Based on the relievers who will likely start the year in Houston’s bullpen, Josh Fields is the one potential closer. Fields held that role at times towards the end of last season to mixed results. Had he not been a Rule 5 selection last year, he would likely have been sent to the minors at some point. I think he might end the year as closer, and this is not an indication of what I think of Qualls, but I do think he needs some more seasoning.
I’m going to be boring and say Chad Qualls. You have to go with a guy who is experienced, knows what it takes to close, and can be a LEADER. Lets not forget that Chad was a member of one of the tightest bullpens in Astros’ history. During that era he was a young guy learning his way. Now he is the veteran that has to do his best to right the ship. However, if Josh Fields shows that he can be effective all season, I would not mind seeing him get the occasional crack at closer. Besides we all know the “closer” title is a bit overrated anyhow. The most important thing is to develop several late inning guys that can pitch in any situation.
Since Jessie Crain won’t be pitching until a few weeks into the season, I think the team should utilize a closer-by-committee approach. Though Crain probably should not jump into the closer role when he does join the team, he is likely the best man for the job. Until then it’s an extended spring training. Let Josh Fields, Kevin Chapman, Chad Qualls and Matt Albers get a chance here and there. There’s a problem with this, though, that the 9th inning is a higher profile situation and may cause similar issues that were evidenced at the end of last season.
Jesse Crain should be the closer. The Astros are paying him to be the closer. Crain’s $3.25 million salary is higher than that of any other reliever on the roster. Unfortunately, he’s going to spend at least the first month of the season on the disabled list.
Chad Qualls would appear to be next in line. Qualls was signed to a 2-year, $6 million deal over the winter, making him the second highest paid reliever on the squad. The veteran has done well enough this spring to get the nod, in my opinion.
Jesse Crain has really good stuff but really bad health, and he’s already been ruled out for the start of the year, leaving fellow new free agent signing Qualls as the lone veteran in the pen to close games as I expect Albers to be utilized more often.
Do I think he’s a good option at closer? Not really, but he’s the best option for the Astros right now. And after last season’s bullpen adventures it’s nothing to complain about as a fan.. For now.