Whether a game is played in 2020 or not, George Springer is slated to become a free agent for the first time this coming winter. The Astros, however, hope to broker a long-term deal with their star outfielder, per Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle. While he was overseeing the baseball ops department in between the firing of Jeff Luhnow and hiring of new GM James Click, owner Jim Crane “made it clear” to Springer’s representatives at Excel Sports Management that his club was interested in a long-term deal, Rome writes. Such talks aren’t permitted during the league’s transaction freeze, though the two sides can come back to the table once that freeze is lifted.
Crane made that desire clear not only in his words but also through his actions. As we noted at the time the two sides avoided arbitration, it’s uncommon these days for a team and player to agree on a one-year arrangement after arbitration numbers are filed. But Crane not only bucked the “file-and-trial” trend that permeates the game with regard to Springer — he inked the slugger at a $21MM rate that checked in north of the $20MM midpoint between Springer’s $22.5MM submission and the club’s $17.5MM figure.
Paired with Rome’s report on the situation, that seems like a clear show of good faith that the club hopes to keep Springer around for the long haul — keeping him in Houston alongside already-extended stars Alex Bregman and Jose Altuve. Bregman’s five-year, $100MM extension and Altuve’s $151MM extension both run through the 2024 campaign.
Keeping Springer would be a critical move for the Astros, who currently stand to lose four of their nine 2019 everyday players to free agency this winter. Beyond Springer, each of Michael Brantley, Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel is slated to hit the open market. While top prospect Kyle Tucker should be ready to slot into one of those outfield vacancies and Abraham Toro could perhaps occupy first base, that still leaves the club with a pair of holes in the lineup.
The financial feasibility, of course, remains to be seen. Houston has $116MM on the books in 2021 — including $134MM in total luxury tax obligations. That’s not including what should be significant arbitration raises to Roberto Osuna (earning $10MM in 2020), Carlos Correa ($8MM in 2020) and Lance McCullers Jr. ($4.1MM in 2020) — plus smaller raises for Chris Devenski ($2MM in 2020), Aledmys Diaz ($2.6MM in 2020) and Joe Biagini ($1MM in 2020). The Astros barely spent in free agency this winter as the team seemingly eyed a 2021 dip under the luxury threshold, but there’s certainly room to pay Springer on a long-term deal and still successfully make that luxury maneuver next season.
Springer, 31 in September, landed third on MLBTR’s Free Agent Power Rankings back in late February — trailing only Mookie Betts and J.T. Realmuto. Skeptics will surely question the legitimacy of his excellence at the plate in the wake of the team’s sign-stealing scandal — and it’s only fair to point out that Springer had one of his best seasons amid that trash-can scandal in 2017. But the slugger’s best season was actually in 2019, when he laid waste to opposing pitching with a .292/.383/.591 slash line (150 OPS+, 156 wRC+) and ripped 39 home runs in just 122 games/556 plate appearances.
It should also be emphasized that while Springer and his teammates surely benefited from that sign-stealing operation, his offensive ability has never been in doubt. He was the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft and posted an OPS of .900 or better at each minor league level (plus in the Arizona Fall League) on his way to the big leagues. Springer posted a 129 wRC+ in three seasons prior to that nefarious 2017 campaign and, over the course of his MLB career, has been 31 percent better than the league average hitter per OPS+ and 33 percent better per wRC+. He also rates well defensively in both center field and right field.
A long-term deal for Springer would be likely be expected to cover at least five years under normal circumstances, although the loss of revenue presents some uncertainty as to what to expect with regard to contract negotiations — extensions and free agency alike — whenever transactions do resume.