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Decision time

If you missed Joe Strauss’ chat yesterday there are a lot of references to the pen. Now, in fairness, I’m not entirely sure how tightly his hand is perched on the pulse of the organization, but the entirety of his comments regarding the pen are worthy of discussion.

To summarize, Joe said –

  • left-handed relief is the team’s 2nd biggest priority entering next season (behind middle infield)
  • the team would prefer to trade for help, at any position, rather than sign free agents b/c the team is so deep, both at the major and minor league levels, at right-handed relief and in the outfield
  • the organization likes both Motte and Perez
  • the plan is to keep McClellan in the pen, though they’ll be more judicious in how he’s used next year
  • Springer may or may not be back, depending on whether or not they’re able to use any right-handed relievers in a trade
  • the organization likes Brian Fuentes, but believes he’ll be too expensive
  • the organization considers Huston Street "a major risk after his velocity dropped precipitously this summer."

So who are the pen’s current principals? From the right side it’s -- Perez, Motte, McClellan, Franklin, Thompson, Kinney, Jimenez, Worrell; Springer is optional. The left side, clearly, is a lot less stable – Ra. Flores, Johnson, Ro. Flores, Manning. Villone’s a free agent who won’t be back. Is there one guy from the left side you trust? Not me.

From the right side, I’m not sure there’s as much depth as there appears to be. First of all, there’s no definitive closer. I’m all for giving the job to Perez but the final 2 weeks of the season seems to indicate some ambivalence from Tony. Kinney’s got great stuff (9 BB and 30 K in 32 CAREER major league innings) but has got to be considered a wild card. He has 32 total major league innings over the last 3 years. Write his name into the bullpen equation if you want, but write it in pencil. Worrell is a replacement-level pitcher and Thompson is only slightly better. He’s a nice mop-up guy/emergency starter/long-man but shouldn’t be used in many high-leverage situations.

Franklin’s about like Thompson – he needs to be an innings eater or a 6th-7th inning guy and shouldn’t be pitching in critical situations. He’s fine and, used properly, won’t kill us. Jimenez is the new "Kerosene Boy!" He instantly turns 6-2 games into 11-2 games. All he does is bridge the gap between Pineiro and Aaron Miles.

So who do we have we can count on? Perez, Motte, McClellan and Franklin. Hopefully we can count on all of them. Combined, Perez and Motte have less than 53 major league innings. Even so, I think we can agree that they’re keepers. McClellan’s definitely a keeper and Franklin can give us some decent innings in low-leverage situations. Thompson, I believe, is out of options so he’ll either be a Cardinal or not. There’ll be no sending him to Memphis. We can only wish the same true of Jimenez. Could this pen use a guy like Springer? Probably. However, we’re going to have to settle on a closer first.

That brings us to Fuentes. Is he going to be too expensive? Let me say first off that I like Fuentes. He’s got a career K/9 of 10.23 and last year it was 11.78. Think he was pitching for a contract? He’s had some problems w/ the long ball in his career but, hell, he’s been pitching for the Rockies. He has experience in every role in the pen, including as a closer and pitches from the wrong side of his body. These are all significant feathers in his cap. Nevertheless, he is now 33 years old and will likely receive a 3 year contract between $8-10 M per year. He’s also a type-A free agent, meaning signing him would cost us our 1st round draft pick – the 19th overall. Anybody think we ought to trade our #1 draft pick for a 33 year old lefty reliever who we’ll then give 3 years and $8 – 10 M per year? He just became too expensive.

What about Huston Street? His overall numbers from last year aren’t bad. True, he did give up 6 HR in 70 IP – a little higher than I’d like but he gave up just 58 hits in those 70 innings and struck out 69. His ERA was a little high – 3.73, but his FIP was a respectable 3.32. Still, he lost his closer’s job for a reason. His last save was on July 27 last season. June, however, was his worst month and he showed some improvement in July before being removed from the closer’s role. Street took the loss in a 10 inning game against the Royals on July 30, and then blew a save on August 5, and Brad Ziegler got his first save for the A’s on August 8. Now, God knows that Cards’ fans understand how frustrating it is when your closer can’t seal the deal, but the overall numbers don’t appear to be too bad.

Though fangraphs shows that Street’s velocity was down a little last year, his fastball still averaged 90 mph. Here are Street’s fastball velocities by month:

Month fastball mph
April 89.4
May 90.2
June 89.7
July 89.7
August 90.5
September 90.3

I guess his velocity was down a little last summer, but it was back up in August and September. It’s true to say it was lower last season than in previous seasons but Strauss’ quote that it "dropped precipitously last summer" doesn’t appear to be true at all. Would any of you call a half a mile per hour a "precipitous drop" in his velocity?

Why do I put so much emphasis on Street? Rumor has it that he is on the block this winter and I’m not sold on Tony being sold on Perez as his closer. If I’m right (and I hope I’m not) the team could trade for Street and then turn around and trade Perez to a team needing to bolster their bullpen depth (anybody think there are any of those in the big leagues – who could use a young guy who hits 95 on the gun and has a pretty good slider?) in exchange for a young starter or shortstop. If we have no plans to use Perez in the closer’s role, it makes sense to trade him for something that we lack. I’m not suggesting dumping Perez the way we did Reyes. Quite the contrary, I’d rather see him finishing off games in the 9th. But if we’re not going to use him in that role, let’s see if we can get Brandon Wood or a young starter for him.

Another guy rumored to be on the block is the Marlins’ Kevin Gregg. He has 61 saves in the last 2 years, and 77 BB in 152.2 IP. I’m not overwhelmed. He’s a fastball-slider guy who throws harder than Street but is he really better than Perez? I think not.

The bottom line is that I really have no idea what the team’s plans are for the closer’s role but I do know that their decision on the 9th inning will impact a possible Springer-signing and whether or not Perez is involved in a trade. All things considered, I’m not really sure how signing Springer to a reasonable (less than the $3.5 M we signed him to last season) contract hurts us at all.