Russ Springer: An Opportunity Missed?

Categories: Cardinals
Russ Springer was claimed off waivers by the Tampa Bay Rays just the other day, and I can't help but wonder if the Cardinals didn't miss an opportunity by not putting in a claim of their own. 

Springer, you'll remember, spent both the 2007 and 2008 seasons with the Cardinals, pitching remarkably well both years, particularly '08. In fact, for most of last season, he was probably the Cards' most dependable reliever, though Tony La Russa was extremely cautious (and wisely so, in my opinion), about his usage patterns with Springer. He left for Oakland this past offseason, and many people felt the Cardinals made a mistake letting such a valuable commodity walk. 

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Personally, I felt it was the right move at the time, though I probably would have offered arbitration for the chance at a draft pick; if he accepted, I just would have dealt with having an extremely useful bullpen arm hanging around. Still, with as much relief depth as the Cardinals had coming into the season from the right side, I thought letting Springer walk was probably a wise move, all in all. 

Unfortunately, we've now seen that supposed bullpen depth all but evaporate. Once again on Sunday, we saw some shaky relief work, as Jason Motte still struggles to find consistency with his offspeed pitches and Kyle McClellan continues to miss the strike zone more often than you would like to see. 

Not only did the Rays get Springer, they did so without having to give up anything at all, as the Athletics simply allowed the waiver claim to go through, rather than trying to arrange a trade. As a result, the Rays assume the rest of Springer's salary for the season, a pro-rated portion of the $3.3 million he was making, and didn't have to trade away any talent. 

There have been rumblings the Cards wanted Springer included in the Matt Holliday deal; considering what they gave up, that certainly would have made the deal a bit more palatable. However, at the time, Billy Beane was asking for more to send Springer along, so John Mozeliak did the deal for Holliday alone. Understandable, really; any more being sent the A's way and Mo would have needed to try and convince Beane to take him out to dinner before they sealed the deal, so to speak. There was also a bit of talk after the Holliday deal that the Cards were interested in bringing Springer back, but nothing much ever really materialized on that front. 

But once Springer went on waivers, I just can't believe Mo and the Cardinals didn't put in a claim. They would have had a chance at him long before the Rays did, due to Tampa Bay's much better record in 2008. So why didn't they? Honestly, I don't know. After taking on the money for both Holliday and Mark DeRosa, I can't imagine ownership balked at adding what little money Springer is still owed this year; just sort of guesstimating in my head, I think it would have been a little less than a million and a half. The Cards have gone all in this season; why wouldn't they be willing to pony up and pay Russ Springer to come in and help solidify what is quickly looking more and more like a very shaky situation? 

I can only assume it was a miscalculation on the part of Mozeliak and the front office. They probably assumed that Beane would still want to make a trade for Springer, and didn't want to give up any more talent. Instead, Beane simply cut the salary off his books, and now has a little extra money to throw at an unsigned draft pick or the like. 

In the end, it isn't a huge deal; Russ Springer probably isn't going to be the difference for this Cardinal team. Then again, he might be, and he could have been had for nothing, essentially. Not a terrible mistake, but I wonder if we aren't going to look back at this down the road somewhere and say, "If only." 

Edit: As noted by two very astute commentors below, I screwed up the waiver rules. I forgot it goes by league first, and every AL team would have had to pass on Springer before the Cardinals would have a shot at him. This presents me with an interesting quandary: I could just rewrite this column, and change it around to question whether or not the Cardinals should have tried harder to get a deal done for Springer before he hit the waiver wire. It would work just fine, and I would save face. However, I've decided to simply leave this as is, as a testament to just how stupid you can end up looking when you think you know something, rather than actually looking it up to make sure you're right. 

-Aaron
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