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The Astros are hesitant to trade Chad Qualls

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The Astros are a rebuilding team who is out of contention, so on the surface, they don’t have much need for a veteran closer. However, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told Brian McTaggart of MLB.com that he’s unlikely to move Chad Qualls before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.

“I hesitate to use the word ‘untouchable,’ but he likes it here, he’s comfortable here and he’s pitching well,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “To have a guy who’s capable of pitching late in the game, in close games, we’re going to have opportunity going forward. This is a team that’s improving, and as the team improves, you have more save opportunities, more opportunities to pitch at the end of close games. We need more Chad Qualls. We don’t need less.”

Perhaps Luhnow is just posturing, but it’s easy to understand why he’s hesitant to deal him. Qualls is owed a little over $1 million for the rest of this season and $3 million in 2015 while his contract includes a $3.5 million club option for 2016 or a $250,000 buyout. The contract is an excellent value given the going rate of MLB closers, so the Astros would likely have to be overwhelmed to deal him.

Qualls has quietly enjoyed an excellent season with Houston, posting a 1.78 ERA and 31/4 K/BB ratio over 35 1/3 innings. He’s 11-for-13 in save chances.

Shohei Otani may come to the United States after 2017

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Last week it was widely speculated that Shohei Otani, the highly-touted Japanese pitcher/designated hitter who stars for the Nippon Ham Fighters, would not come to the United States to play due to changes in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The upshot: the new CBA caps money available to international free agents under age 25 at $5-6 million and Otani, 22, would be worth way more than that, so why take the pay cut?

Now, however, Jeff Passan of Yahoo reports that the Fighters are set to post Shotei Otani following the 2017 season. Passan says that his sources have told him that there are potential ways around the limit on spending for under-25 players like Shohei Otani and he links a Japanese article from Sponichi which says the Fighters would post him after the 2017 season.

It’d be interesting to see what that loophole is. Without knowing the exact terms of the CBA on this score it’s impossible to know, but one possibility is that there are different rules applicable to those with professional experience in other countries as opposed to amateur free agents.

Whatever the case, the notion that we could see Otani in the U.S. at age 23 or 24 is pretty exciting.

Report: Phillies close to signing Joaquin Benoit

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  Joaquin Benoit #53 of the Toronto Blue Jays pitches during the seventh inning of a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim  at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 15, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Salisbury of CSN Philly reports that the Phillies are close to signing free agent reliever Joaquin Benoit. An announcement is expected before the winter meetings end on Thursday.

Benoit, 39, has quietly been among the better relievers in baseball over the past seven years. This past season with the Mariners and Blue Jays, the right-hander put up an aggregate 2.81 ERA with a 52/24 K/BB ratio in 48 innings. That included a 0.38 ERA in 23 2/3 innings after the Jays acquired him from the Mariners.

Benoit suffered a torn calf muscle during a benches-clearing brawl with the Yankees near the end of the regular season. He’s expected to be healthy for spring training.

The Phillies have now added three relievers this offseason with Benoit, Pat Neshek, and David Rollins.