Friday, June 29, 2007

Astros Chad Qualls May Hold Key to AL Pennant

Look for Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein to compete to win the Chad Qualls sweepstakes, not because the hard-throwing Astros reliever is so desperately needed in Boston, but because he may be needed in Detroit.

Pressure continues to mount for the Tigers to find bullpen help, perhaps even replacing closer Todd Jones, who has allowed baserunners like fleas on a dog. Because the road to the pennant runs through the Motor City, it's critical not to find bullpen help but to block teams like the Tigers from acquiring it.

The more obvious it becomes that the Astros are going no place, look for Qualls to be traded for prospects or up-and-coming youngsters. Whomever loses out on Qualls will be under even greater pressure to acquire his teammate, Brad Lidge, or perhaps Rangers closer Eric Gagne.

Qualls is the cheapest of the three, and to get him the Tigers will not hesitate to flip one of several unnamed player possibilities recently acquired from St. Louis in the Mike Maroth deal. Established hitters such as Craig Monroe or Marcus Thames also are expendable in Detroit.