The signing of Chad Qualls wasn’t one of the bargain basement signings like Juan Pierre or Joel Pineiro where a Phillies fan can argue if it doesn’t work out, we can stash the journeyman 33 year-old reliever in Triple-A. Instead, the signing of Qualls for $1.15 million was a little puzzling, perplexing, and pushed them right to the threshold of the dreaded luxury tax. And while my colleague Corey Seidman did a fantastic job illustrating why it wasn’t the best signing, I’d like to argue it was a good signing for reasons you may have and may not have anticipated.
In Jonah Keri’s piece on Albert Pujols’s contract, Keri says the going rate for 1 win is about $5 million. Corey praised Qualls for a nasty sinker-slider combo that induces groundballs and projected him as a .3 to .7 win reliever for 2012, which would be a bargain. Bill James has predicted Qualls somewhere between his very good 2009 and serviceable 2010, making Corey’s prediction spot on. Where I differ with Corey is how Qualls place on the team effects the young arms around him and how this signing reflects on the Phillies.
Injuries Happen, Call-Ups are Used
In 2011, the Phillies used 22 pitchers, 18 from the bullpen at some point. In 2010, those numbers were 21 and 16, 2009 saw 22 and 18, 2008’s numbers were 18 and 14, and 2007 saw 28 pitchers take the mound for the Phillies with 23 of them seeing relief duty. 2007 is unquestionably the outlier, but consider this: 16 pitchers appeared for the Phillies out of the ‘pen for 10 or more appearances in 2007 in a worst case scenario, everybody-got-injured-or-is-horrible year. In 2011, with a relatively stable ‘pen? 10 pitchers had at least 10 appearances, with 8 with 24 or more.
Qualls is a serviceable pitcher that was had at the right price. Admittedly, I am intrigued by seeing Michael Schwimer, Justin DeFratus, Phillippe Aumont, and Joe Savery receive an extended shot at the Majors, but signing Qualls will not reduce their chances. Other circumstances that happened at the end of this year and in the off-season have dramatically increased their chances, if anything.
Every year, it felt like the Phillies would trot out a combination of Andrew Carpenter, Scott Mathieson, and Mike Zagurski to varying degrees of effectiveness any time there was an injury. One was traded to Toronto, Mathieson left for Japan, and Zagurski was traded to Arizona. Those road blocks are gone. And the difference with Schwimer, DeFratus, and Aumont? They’re younger and fresher than the previous trio was when they were receiving their shots. If any of those three, along with Savery, does get an extended look due to injury, the Phillies have no problem retaining those players on the roster if their performance remains at a high level, examples being Michael Stutes and Antonio Bastardo.
The Reality that Stutes and Bastardo May Have Caught Lightning in a Bottle
For the first half of the year, Stutes looked like the missing link in the bullpen. The 24-year old was fantastic but hit two distinct walls: in June and in September. And it wasn’t all that crazy to suggest Bastardo was one of the best set-up men in all of baseball midway through the season. Like Stutes, however, Bastardo ran into a wall and lost effectiveness late in the season. There is a real possibility that at some point for either one of these pitchers, the wheels may fall off again, leaving an opportunity for one of the young arms to get their opportunity.
What Luxury Tax?
And perhaps the most exciting, and abstract interpretation, of the Chad Qualls signing is the possibility that the Phillies are willing to go above and beyond the Luxury Tax threshold to acquire the players they need to win a World Series. Philadelphia fans, myself included, long loathed the Yankees and Red Sox, and sometimes the Cubs and Mets, for being big pocketed bullies who did whatever it took monetarily to build a championship team. The Phillies haven’t entered that realm; they’re already in it.
Does the Chad Qualls signing mean they’re going to be able to re-sign Cole Hamels for whatever his price tag may be after the season? Not at all. But what it may suggested is with the added revenue of selling out every night, increased ticket prices, and the very real new TV deal that is around the corner, the Phillies will go straight up to the Luxury Tax and sometimes cross it to acquire the right players.