The Houston Astros inked Jesse Crain to a one-year pact Tuesday. Another year, another question about who'll lock down save situations for this rebuilding club.
Last year, it was Jose Veras and company. Under their current roster composition, Crain, fellow new signee Chad Qualls and holdover Joshua Fields top the speculation chart.
Fields should re-enter picture eventually
Houston should continue grooming Fields for the long term, but he's shown control woes that have negated his K prowess. Maybe he'll straighten things out in his second big-league season, but he probably wouldn't become a major player in the saves fray until the second half.
That would play well if the 'Stros decide to trade a healthy Crain, who thanks to a shoulder strain didn't pitch after June 29, failing to suit up following his trade to the Tampa Bay Rays. Crain's dominance profile (8.21 K/9 or greater the last four years, with 11.25 and 11.29 in the last two) says he's suitable for the job.
If healthy, he'll compete with Qualls, who revived his career in Miami last season by forcing more empty hacks. He showed better juice on his sinker (nearly 1 mph faster than last season, per PITCHf/x). The righty pitched far above his head last year, though, per advanced metrics, so he has plenty of downside.
Though his splits aren't far off from Qualls', Crain's relative vulnerability to left-handers could hurt him. Qualls' 51 career wrap-ups also dwarf Crain's four. On the other hand, Qualls' high rate of coaxing grounders might prompt Houston to save him for tough non-closing spots.
There's plenty of time for this to unfold more clearly before fantasy baseball drafts, but this is a reminder that you can find plenty of value hidden beneath uniforms that scare drafters.
Forget that "bad team, bad saves picture" myth. Houston had 61 save opportunities last year, which ranked 14th in the bigs, and now they have more established skills arms to take advantage of the job.
About Tim Heaney
Tim's work has been featured by USA Today/Sports Weekly, among numerous outlets, and recognized as a finalist in the Fantasy Sports Writers Association awards. The Boston University alum, who competes in LABR and Tout Wars, has won numerous industry leagues in both baseball and football.
During baseball and football season, he appears on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio on Thursdays and Sundays, and every Wednesday on 1570 AM WNST in Baltimore.
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