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Houston Astros: Do the Astros need to buy-out of Chad Qualls contract?

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Chad Qualls broke into baseball ten years ago with the Houston Astros and was able to take part in the 2005 World Series run out of the bullpen. A decade later in his second season with the Astros after returning to his original team, Qualls was left off the American League Division Series roster versus the Kansas City Royals. Was this omission a foreshadowing of what the future that Qualls holds with the Astros or was it solely about the matchups versus the Royals?

Qualls had an up and down season in 2015, but at times he can be very dominating. The problem with Qualls is that he does not have the overpowering stuff to make hitters get out, but he has a way of getting hitters to hit the ground balls. Qualls repertoire consists of a sinking fastball he throws around 91.4 mph and a slider that sits at 86 mph according to Fangraphs. When Qualls sinker is on, he is getting under the hitters bats which leads to the ground balls. He has a 59.9% groundball percentage which approaches Dallas Keuchel‘s excellent 61.7% of balls in play to be on the ground.

What does Qualls have to offer?

However, when he is not getting the sink on the ball, he is very susceptible to being hit hard. While Qualls does not allow a large percent of flyballs, only 24.6% allowed in 2015, a career high 17.1% of those flyballs left the yard. Part of these issues were during a stretch where Qualls appeared to be pitching with an injury, and he lost the sink on the ball and mass insanity followed. Qualls struggled in May (4.91 ERA), June (8.44 ERA), and September/October (6.14 ERA) via Fangraphs. June was Qualls’ worth month in the season, and it was announced that he had the neck pain.

Why is it such a big deal about why the Astros should bring Qualls back or not? Some will say that Qualls is the leader of the bullpen, even doing that job when not pitching in the ALDS. However, he struggled at the wrong times too many times this season. The Astros made a bold statement of not putting the ‘veteran leader’ on the postseason roster, his days pitching for the home team might be numbered.

Let’s put this in a way Sci-Fi fans will understand involving two M&Ms. If the Astros eat the blue M&M, they will release Qualls and pay a $250,000 buy-out to make him a free agent. If the Astros eat the red M&M, they will pick up Qualls third year team option for $3.5 million dollars. I know which M&M Astros’ fans would pick, but would the Astros want to lose the veteran arm?

The bullpen as it consists as of right now. 

Luke Gregerson

Pat Neshek

Josh Fields

Will Harris

Michael Feliz?

Vincent Velasquez?

Kevin Chapman?

Other minor leaguers?

Free-Agents

Tony Sipp

Qualls (if Astros choose buy-out)

Joe Thatcher

Oliver Perez

While I see the Astros making re-signing Sipp a priority, I think that Qualls spot on the roster is too valuable to waste on a player who wasn’t good enough for the postseason roster. The Astros have several top prospects who could become eligible for the Rule V draft in December that they much rather protect. They could also use that $3.5 million towards bringing the flame-throwing reliever I wrote about yesterday here: How far will the Astros go to get a flame-throwing closer?

The Astros a flush with minor league pitchers in the minors with not enough room in the Astros rotation to fit them all. Some of these pitchers will be kept pitching in the minors as rotation depth, but some of them with be converted into relievers. Even though I don’t like the idea, someone like Mark Appel or Francis Martes could be converted into a reliever, but I feel that Joseph Musgrove will stay a starter. We have some hard-throwing young guys in Jandel Gustave, Reymin Guduan, and Albert Abreu according to Baseball America via @Proud_Robot, in response to my flame-throwing closer post.

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The problem that Luhnow is trying to avoid is having too many young guys in the bullpen, he has been there and done that in 2014. Should the Astros not pick up Qualls offer, look for them to re-sign Sipp and pick up another experienced pitcher. Perez is probably going back to Arizona, Thatcher back to retirement, and Qualls should go to the Texas Rangers.

When Qualls is on, there is no one else in the bullpen I would rather have pitch in a big situation. It’s nothing personal against Qualls, but the Astros are in a unique position of rebuilding while contending, they need the roster spot. We can’t afford to lose another Delino DeShields type of player to another team, much less to a division foe in the Rangers.

I hope you like blue M&M’s because that is most likely what will happen. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Astros choose the red M&M. Whoo, this is an exciting offseason already.

Next: Houston Astros: Comparing the 2005 World Series lineup to 2015 ALDS team

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