It might be minor and nothing more than a cosmetic move, but the Tampa Bay Rays have been the first of the three big AL East teams to make efforts to improve their bullpen.
Looking purely at numbers, perhaps acquiring Chad Qualls from Arizona might not seem like an improvement. He has an 8.29 ERA and opponents are hitting a monstrous .363 against him.
But the Rays, whose bullpen has undergone a massive transformation this year with the acquisition of closer Rafael Soriano and the unexpected lights-out campaign by setup man Joaquin Benoit, are hopeful those numbers are an aberration.
If you look at Qualls' career, they just might be.
The 31-year-old has never had an ERA above 3.76 and served just fine as the Diamondbacks closer for a good stretch of 2009. His strikeout rate of 8.1 per nine innings is better than his career average, and some of his other peripherals are not quite as bad as you might expect.
It's that .363 opponents' mark that stands out, but with a .434 figure on balls in play, he has to have a regression in that category. That's an intergalactic BABIP that should go down just by showing up.
Given that, the Rays have taken arguably the best bullpen in the AL and added a veteran — but not aging — right-handed arm who may have simply needed a change in scenery.
Then again, Tampa Bay's biggest need from the start has been a bat. Washington slugger Adam Dunn has been linked to the Rays. Qualls, who is due under $2 million for the remainder of the year and is a free agent after the year, could be a chip in a move such as that later on.
Qualls most certainly was not high on the Red Sox' or Yankees' list. That said, a 31-year-old reliever with a quality track record is now unavailable to two teams who could use 31-year-old relievers with a quality track record.
Stay tuned on whether Qualls stays with the Rays, and/or what the Sox and Yanks do to upgrade their pens, which would seem imperative on both fronts.