Mailbag: Chad Qualls

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Rafi asks: If the Yankees are indeed still looking for a RH RP, allow me to throw out a name that seams to be totally off everyone’s radar: Chad Qualls. This guy has closer experience with a decent K (7.35/9) rate, good BB (2.5) rate, and of course, great GB rate (55% – the league leader this past year, was Tim Hudson at 64.1). He did walk 3.2/9 last season, but almost all his other numbers were the same. The biggest differences? A .399 BABIP leading to 13 H/9. While his 7.32 ERA was easily his high (almost double his previous), his FIP was 4.13, and xFIP was 3.91. Since he’s coming off such a poor looking year, and is a type-B, what kind of contract do you think he’ll get? I think he’s a great fit.

Qualls has been in the back of my mind all offseason mostly because his name stares me right in the face whenever I go to update the 2011 Draft Order page. Considering the season he had, which by most statistical measures was awful, I was stunned to hear that he turned down the Rays’ offer of arbitration. His stock was certainly down and accepting arbitration would have guaranteed him some sort of raise on this past season’s $4.185M salary. Is he going to get even $4M for one year on the open market? Hell no. Bad job by his agent declining.

Anyway, I’ve been a fan of Qualls’ ever since his playoff performance with the Astros during their run to the 2005 World Series. He threw 13 innings across nine appearances in Houston’s 14 postseason games, striking out ten, getting 68.8% ground balls, and holding opponents to a .233 wOBA. It was a beastly performance, no other way to put it. Unfortunately that was half-a-decade ago and not indicative of what he has to offer now.

As you said, Qualls’ underlying performance in 2010 wasn’t too far off from the rest of his career, he was just victimized by a .399 BABIP and a 53.0% strand rate (league average is 72%). There are legitimate concerns, though. His strikeout rate has declined in each of the last two seasons, from 8.67 K/9 in 2008 to 7.79 in 2009 to 7.47 in 2010, and unsurprisingly his swinging strike rate has declined as well (11.3%, 10.3%, 8.2%). His ground ball has also declined over the last two years, from 58.3% in ’08 to 56.9% in ’09 to 55% in ’10, and his walk rate was a career high 2.59 BB/9 (removing intentional walks). There’s a lot of stuff trending in the wrong direction here.

One thing to remember is that Qualls started the year coming off a very serious knee/leg injury that ended his 2009 season in late August. Jason Michaels hit him with a comeback line drive, resulting in a dislocated knee cap, a torn meniscus (in two places), and his quad muscle being partially torn off the bone. Ouch. There’s a chance the injury still hampered him a bit in 2010. Another thing to remember is that he’s 32, so his hellacious sinker might not be what it once was. Even if the pitch has lost just a little bit of sink, it’ll have a pretty big difference.

At his peak, from 2007 through 2009, Qualls struck out 8.38 batters per nine innings, walked just 1.77 per nine unintentionally, and got a ground ball 57.3% of the time. That’s an extremely valuable reliever, and any team that signs Qualls is banking on him returning to that level of performance, or at least thereabouts. Some normal BABIP and left-on-base rate regression will bring his ERA and WHIP back to reality, but the declining peripherals are enough to cast doubt on his ability to be effective going foward.

With all that said, I do prefer Qualls to all of the other right-handed relief options still on the market (Jon Rauch, Aaron Heilman, Octavio Dotel, etc.) and would be willing to roll the dice with him going into next season since it’s not my money. A ground ball pitcher does worry me a bit given the questionable defense on the left side of the infield, but seeing-eye singles are better than long fly balls that could go over the fence. Qualls is a Type-B free agent so it won’t cost a draft pick to sign him, and given how the rest of the relief market has played out this winter, a one year deal at $2-3M seems like a logical contract. I wouldn’t expect greatness, but I would expect a more than serviceable middle relief option with a chance for a bit more.

An $18 million luxury tax bill

Major League Baseball sent out the luxury taxes bills on Tuesday, and the Yankees are on the hook for $18 million. It’s their lowest luxury tax payment since 2003, down from $25.7 last offseason. “Atta baby. And right now we’re in the $170s,” joked Brian Cashman, referring to the team payroll (in millions, of course). The Red Sox are the only other team over the limit, and their luxury tax payment comes in at $1.49M. Checks are due January 31st.

For luxury tax purposes, the Yankees had a $215.1M payroll in 2010, down $11.1M from 2009. The threshold climbed to $170M this past year, so the Yankees were taxed the maximum 40% (since they’re repeat offenders) on the $45.1M they spent in excess of the threshold.  Since the current incarnation of the luxury tax was instituted in 2003, the Yankees have paid out a total of $192.2M. Boston is the second biggest luxury tax culprit at $15.34M. The money goes into MLB’s central fund, which is used to cover player benefits, “injury growth,” and other vaguely described items.

Here’s what Brian Cashman had to say, courtesy of ESPN NY

“We’re doing a better job of managing our payroll and managing our decision-making as we enter the free-agent market,” Cashman said. “Our payroll doesn’t necessarily have to live at that level, but it’s nice to know that our owners are committed to allow us to get there if we need to.”

[snip]

“We weren’t going to exceed where we were this past year, but the bottom line is that now that the Lee thing has declared itself, it would be hard-pressed for us to get up to that level,” Cashman said.

[snip]

“You need a strong farm system that prevents you from being desperate in the free-agent market,” Cashman said. “You don’t want to be desperate in the free-agent market, because you’ll get slaughtered.”

Because of the Lee non-signing, the Yankees have a good amount of extra cash burning a hole in their pocket, but the problem is there are no decent players to spend it on. The top free agents still on the market don’t fit with the Yankees, and spending upwards of $20 million on complimentary pieces isn’t the wisest idea. Instead, Cashman has said the team will be patient and add a piece here and there, then take the payroll savings into the season. Then when some team is looking to unload a contract during the summer, the Yankees will be first in line.

Open Thread: Boomer

(AP Photo/Paul Battaglia)

It was impossible not to like David Wells. He was big, loud, obnoxious, and looked like he had just been plucked from the bleachers. But man, could that dude pitch. Boomer was the kind of guy that could roll out of bed in mid-January, step on a mound, and paint the corners with a fastball and drop a curve in for a strike at the knees. He was simply blessed with a rubber arm and pinpoint control. Although his Yankee tenure (the second one) ended on a sour note, he gave the team 851.2 IP over four seasons with a 3.90 ERA and 16.4 bWAR total. And, of course, there’s the perfect game. Easily my most memorable David Wells moment. They don’t make ’em like this anymore.

Anyways, here is tonight’s open thread. Both the Devils and Nets are in action, but meh. You guys know what to do by now, so have at it.

Yankees sign Leonel Vinas to minor league contract

Via Bryan Hoch, the Yankees have signed 19-year-old right-hander Leonel Vinas to a minor league contract after being called to Tampa for three private workout sessions. He spent the summer pitching for a Hank Steinbrenner sponsored youth team here in New York, defeating Mariano Rivera Jr.’s team at Yankee Stadium for the “Boss’s Cup.” Vinas struck out 168 batters in 84 innings this year, throwing no-hitters against Adelphia University and Suffolk Community College. According to the article he throws a fastball, curveball, and changeup, and will start his career as a reliever in rookie ball next season.

I’m always a fan of long-shot stories like this, so I wish him nothing but the best of luck.

The RAB Radio Show: The RAB Radio Show for December 21, 2010

It’s Hall of Fame time. The writers are submitting their ballots, and we’ll have a new group of inductees soon enough. We thought it appropriate, since Yankee news is lacking, to run down our thoughts on the 2011 ballot.

Mike and I are both small hall guys, but that doesn’t mean we’ll vote no on people just because. Well, I think I did in at least one instance. But you’ll be surprised at the number of yesses. The only disappointment is the inevitable entry of a universal No among us.

Podcast run time 43:16

Here’s how you can listen to podcast:

  • Download the RAB Radio Show by right clicking on that link and choosing Save As.
  • Listen in your browser by left clicking the above link or using the embedded player below.
  • Subscribe in iTunes. If you want to rate us that would be great. If you leave a nice review I’ll buy you a beer at a meet-up.

Intro music: “Smile” by Farmer’s Boulevard used under a Creative Commons license

Might the Marlins make Anibal Sanchez available?

Yeah, but he walked six. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

The normally frugal Marlins have gone on a relative spending spree this winter. It started when they signed John Buck to a three-year, $18 million contract and continued through yesterday, when they signed Ricky Nolasco to a three-year, $26.5 million extension. In the middle they also signed Javier Vazquez to a $7 million one-year deal and Randy Choate to a two-year, $2.5 million deal. Those deals bring Florida’s payroll to over $40 million in 2011. Arbitration raises and reserve clause obligations should bring it to near $50 million, which means the Marlins will increase payroll for the third straight season.

That appears very un-Marlins-like. The team has been one of the stingiest in the majors for the past half-decade. A move to a new Stadium could open up new lines of revenue, so maybe the Marlins will maintain their current payroll level for now and in the future. Or maybe they’ll look to sell off one or two of their more expensive pieces in exchange for cost-controlled talent. Looking through their payroll forecast, one name stands out as someone who might interest the Yankees. Anibal Sanchez, coming off the best, and healthiest, season of his career, is due a decent raise over the $1.25 million he earned in 2010. If the Marlins are listening, the Yanks should do a little trade talking.

Sanchez, you might remember, went to Florida in the Josh Beckett trade. After a slow start to his career he had gained plenty of value by that point, having dominated advanced-A ball before putting on a fine showing at AA as a 21-year-old. He arrived in Florida during the winter of 2005-2006 as the Marlins No. 3 prospect, and as baseball’s No. 40 overall. In 2006 he opened the season in AA, but pitched so well there that he earned a call-up to the bigs. His first 114.1 major league innings went about as well as possible, as Sanchez overcame iffy peripherals to produce a 2.83 ERA — including one no-hitter.

Sanchez’s strong 2006 season came with one drawback: it was the second straight year in which he drastically increased his workload. In 2005 he threw 136 innings after throwing 76.1 in 2004. Then in 2006 he threw 200 on the nose. After just six starts in 2007 Sanchez hit the DL with a shoulder injury that would eventually require surgery to repair the labrum. That kept him out of the majors until July 31, 2008. He again made six starts in 2009 before succumbing to a shoulder injury, which kept him out until June. After just three innings of work he hit the DL again, this time the 60-day variety. It was, for the third time, a shoulder issue.

Things have gone well for Sanchez since that last injury. He came back in late August of 2009 and threw 50.1 innings to a 2.68 ERA the rest of the way. But it was in 2010 that everything seemed to come together. While Sanchez produced quality results in 2006 and 2009, his peripherals were considerably worse than the performance. In 2010 Sanchez pitched 195 innings to a 3.55 ERA, but more importantly his FIP, 3.32, and xFIP, 4.21, were both career lows. Even his tERA was a nice, low 3.32. Injuries might have hampered his progress, but it appears as though Sanchez has overcome the obstacle and is now starting to fulfill his promise.

If the Yankees are to inquire about Sanchez, they need to first ponder two questions. First, how big an injury risk does he represent in the future? Second, how have his previous injuries affected him already? The first one is pure speculation, and requires someone with actual medical expertise. Even then, it’s merely informed speculation rather than a blind guess. To the second, though, we can see some signs in Sanchez’s 2010 numbers that might give us an indication. For instance, his velocity, according to both PitchFX and Baseball Info Solutions, is right where it has always been — and in fact might have been a bit faster in 2010. That’s an encouraging sign for a player who has undergone labrum surgery and who has suffered a subsequent shoulder injury.

If the Marlins are open to trading Sanchez, I imagine they’d settle for nothing less than taking the Yanks to the cleaners. They have a fairly strong team in 2011 and could contend for the wild card, so to trade their No. 2 starter would deal a serious blow to those hopes. Still, we have a good idea of how the Marlins operate, and the right package of young players could tempt them. I imagine they’d ask for Montero, but the Yanks won’t go there. A package that included Manny Banuelos, Brandon Laird, and Austin Romine might get the conversation started, but certainly won’t finish it. For all we know, the Marlins might not settle for anything less than Montero — and at that point there’s simply no way this gets done.

The Yankees must explore every possible pitching option on the market, and I imagine that they will inquire on Sanchez. I also think that he’d be a good fit for the Yankees’ rotation. He induces a fair number of ground balls and strikes out hitters at a rate slightly above league average. His control was on display in 2010, and when healthy he’s shown an ability to limit home runs on fly balls. He will get a bit expensive in the next few years, he has a considerable injury history, and he’s set to hit free agency after the 2012 season, which are all reasons that Florida would consider trading him. But I don’t think they’ll do it on the cheap. They could hold onto him and trade him in July for a similar return — which is exactly why Brian Cashman has preached patience so far this off-season.