Cardinals interest in Springer/Qualls, and next year

Strauss (vis mlb daily dish) reports that the Cards were interested in getting Springer as a throw-in on the Holliday deal. To me, that'd have made it much more palatable. He also mentions Qualls, who would be expensive (but is very good and a Cards-type pitcher - decent K rate, and he's really improved his control this year with his GB-inducing sinker to become an elite reliever).


Apparently the A's wanted another pitching prospect in our haul to include Springer in the Holliday deal. I would guess Lynn, Hawksworth (now he's doing OK in MLB), Boggs and Garcia would be off limits, which doesn't leave much. In the lower minors we have our two recently drafted relief prospects, who I would be reluctant to part with (fireballer Joe Kelly and Scott Bittle, he of the apparently devastating cutter), Deryk Hooker (one of our few potentially high-ceiling guys) and one or two other relief prospects of note. I think I would be comfortable dealing someone like Fernando Salas or Francisco Samuel (who are long-shots to make it, but both have high ceilings, Samuel more so), or a lower-end starting prospect like Adam Ottavino or maybe even PJ Walters. However, I can't really see us getting this deal done if they weren't prepared to include any of these guys in the Holliday deal.  So it's probably moot.

As for Qualls, he's apparently on the type-A/B cusp this year, probably a B, so will be an expensive signing.  He's also on a team-friendly contract ($2.35m for 2009).  I suspect it takes at least a high-level pitching prospect (someone like Boggs) to get this deal done.  Qualls has an ERA well below 4 every season in the majors so far (he came up in 2004), a career 3.68 FIP, and a FIP of 2.78 so far in two seasons as a D'Back (in a hitters' paradise, to boot).  He's suppressed his walkrate in the last two years, so his K/BB ratio sits at an elite 6.8 this season (which, so far, has been a career year as the D'Backs closer).  He has suppressed his HR rate, which partially comes from a stabilising of his HR/FB ratio (which was a little high in Houston, but is now perhaps a bit low in Arizona, so maybe due a *slight* regression), and partly from giving up less flyballs in general.  He's maintained his groundballing ways (58%) this season and throughout his career, and can now be seen as an elite groundball pitcher with excellent control to make up for his slightly-below-elite (but still good) stuff.  He's a lot better than any reliever on our team.  I think he's out of our price range in 2009, due to a lack of prospects.

IF Qualls is likely to be a type A, I would probably do the deal for Boggs, if the D'Backs want him, as I think we go with Hawksworth as our 5th arm for the remaining 8 or so starts he'd be making, and Qualls really helps our pen in the post-season, as well as giving us a couple of picks at the end of the year when he says no to arby.  Still, the Backs could be looking for more than even Boggs if he's an A - Boggs plus Samuel, perhaps.  It's getting expensive at that point, IMO.  Personally, I don't think this gets done, nor would I be especially keen on it.

So, that brings us to next season.  I think we need a RHRP quite badly.  Assuming we pick up Franklin's option, we'll have the following bullpen from the right side (2009 FIP in brackets):

Franklin (2.87)

KMac (4.20)

Motte (5.16)

Kinney (6.94)

Thompson (4.98)

Probably one of Hawksworth or Boggs will be involved too.  Franklin is set to regress, but I'm still fairly confident he can be above-average, maybe pencil in a FIP of about 4.  KMac remains slightly above average, he may improve but I don't think we'll see the early-2008 version again; once more, I think a FIP around 4 is realistic.  Motte is likely to improve but he's probably not the bullpen ace we hoped he might be, and he's a big question mark as his K rate hasn't carried over from AAA and he still needs a 2nd pitch; who knows how he'll go, he probably has the highest ceiling and the lowest floor of the three main arms.  All bets are off on Kinney, Thompson and the rest who'll be lucky to see replacement level.

Overall, our bullpen will be below-average, potentially verging on quite poor, from the right-hand side.  So what about the two guys we're apparently interested in this year?

Qualls will be an expensive free-agent; he could be pitching himself into Kerry Wood or Brian Fuentes-type money this season, and if he's cheaper than that (and not a type-A) he's probably a good add.  I'm thinking he gets at least 3 years, probably around $20m from someone.  I simply don't like giving relievers that sort of money, even though he's just about worth it in WAR terms (based on his D'Backs years, he's a 2-win player).  I'd pass on Qualls unless he comes in below this sort of valuation, especially with the need to add to Pujols' contract, potentially sign Holliday and then still pick up a #4 SP and potentially someone who can handle 3B.

Springer, however, is an interesting case, still.  He's been pretty effective the last 3 years, after a mediocre career, and although I think much of that is luck with HR rate, there's still a persuasive case that he's at least as good as any of the other RHP in our pen next year.  He'll be 42 next season, and his inability to pitch more than one inning (and more than 2-3 times a week) is a worry, but he should share the bulk of the high-leverage innings with KMac and maybe Motte, so I suppose that's less of a concern.

Since 2005, with the Astros, he's put up the following K/BB ratios: 2.57, 2.88, 3.47, 2.50, 3.38.  Overall, he strikes out nearly 3 hitters for every 1 he walks.  That puts him in the "very good" bracket of relievers.  Now, I believe he was basically lucky in his two years with us - he only gave up HR on about 4.5% of his flyballs, which is probably unsustainable (his career rate is around a more-or-less-average 9%).  He's also a fairly extreme flyball pitcher, giving up an airball well over 50% of the at-bats he faces (52% career, 59% this year).  However, we have a stadium that suppresses homers, and a likely outfield of Holliday/Ankiel, Rasmus and Ludwick, which has to rate as one of the best in the game.  So Busch is a good fit for him, and we can perhaps expect his "real" numbers to out-perform his DIPS.

Additionally, he has made his family home in Missourri and one of his children has been treated for a heritable illness nearby, so he's made it known that he's happy here and that it would be his preference over other locations.  His ERA, crucially, has regressed this year to 4.42, which might suppress interest in him, along with his age.  He was signed for $3.3m by the A's last time round (down from the $3.5m we gave him the year before), and I'm pretty confident his value has dropped since then.  Add in a hometown discount for us, given the circumstances, and I think we get him for around $1m, $2m at the most.

He's not the absolute bullpen ace he looked in 2007, but given his relative success the last 5 years, plus his WAR values according to FanGraphs, he adds 0.5-1 WAR to our team (given he's replacing relievers who are potentially below replacement level, or 4.50 FIP) and is murder on right-handed hitters.  $2m is relatively cheap for a guy like Springer, and it's less than we'd pay for any of the other decent bullpen options on the open market.

So, I say go for Springer next season.  The only complication might be if he's a type B again - it wouldn't shock me if Beane offered him arby, knowing he likely gets no more than $4m and nets a pick otherwise.  In that case, Springer might just accept for a last big payday and the chance to secure his family's future.  However, if I were Mo, I'd probably be on the phone to Springer and let him know that he's got a home here next year.  I'd even consider offering a low-end prospect for him if he's a type B this year, although I imagine the A's valuation and what I'd be willing to pay wouldn't fit.

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