Springer leaves 'Stros for rival Cards

Springer leaves 'Stros for rival Cards

HOUSTON -- The Astros said goodbye to two veterans on Friday when Andy Pettitte signed with the Yankees and reliever Russ Springer inked a one-year deal with the Cardinals worth $1.75 million, plus $250,000 more in incentive bonuses for appearances.

Springer, 38, had hoped to re-sign with Houston, but the Astros, expecting to employ a young and somewhat unproven rotation in 2007, were looking to fill Springer's spot with one or two pitchers who could throw multiple innings, earlier in games. They did not offer Springer arbitration and strongly indicated they were not interested in bringing the veteran right-hander back in the fold.

"I've got mixed emotions," Springer said. "Some of my best friends in baseball are in Houston. I love the city and the fans are great. But the bottom line is Houston didn't offer me a contract. It's time to move on. There are no hard feelings.

"I am a one-inning pitcher, I admit that. That's not the route the Astros wanted to go."

The Cardinals envision Springer as someone they could turn to as late as the seventh or eighth innings. They also are counting on him to assume the leadership role he was so well-known for during his 2 1/2 years with the Astros. Springer was known to be the glue that kept the bullpen together as a cohesive unit, dubbing the relief corps "one heartbeat," and "brothers with different mothers."

"They've got young pitchers that they want somebody to show them the ropes, for me to do the same job as Houston," Springer said.

Springer is a familiar face to Cardinals fans. He briefly pitched for St. Louis in 2003, making the team as a non-roster invitee before missing much of the year with an elbow injury.

While Springer had a number of suitors interested in his services, St. Louis was especially enticing, for a couple of reasons. Obviously, joining a team that just won a World Series essentially guarantees that he'll be playing for a contender. But maybe just as importantly, his son, Jake, will be able to return to St. Louis' Judevine Center for Autism. Jake Springer, 8, attended the school when Springer pitched for the Cardinals in '03.

"He actually made some progress there," Springer said. "He's had more success to date there than anywhere else. Everything happens for a reason. I've got mixed emotions about leaving Houston, but at the same time, it's the right way to go.

"Obviously, as soon as we saw Houston was dragging their feet, I had to sit down and say, 'If Houston doesn't do anything, can we make another city work?' We came up with a handful of cities, and every one of them called. I think I had more interest this year than probably any other year in my career.

"I enjoyed my time in St. Louis. I like it there. It's not bad to land on your feet going back to the world champions."

In other news, the Astros signed right-hander Brandon Backe to a one-year contract worth $545,000, plus incentives totaling $25,000 if he's on the active roster for 30 days and $30,000 if he spends 45 days on the active roster.

Although he's expected to miss the entire 2007 season recovering from Tommy John elbow-reconstruction surgery, it's possible -- but highly unlikely -- that Backe could make a late-season return.

The Astros apparently felt it was more prudent to stick with the right-hander and hope he'll make a successful comeback, as many Tommy John patients do.

Alyson Footer is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.