HOUSTON -- The Astros on Sunday extended a qualifying offer to outfielder George Springer, who will have 10 days to decide whether he wants to remain in Houston and play for $18.9 million in 2021 or become a free agent. Springer is a likely to reject the offer, which would make him a free agent for the first time in his career and able to negotiate with any team, including the Astros.
If Springer -- a three-time All-Star -- signs with another team, the Astros would receive a compensatory pick in next year’s MLB Draft, in which the Astros won’t have a first- or second-round pick for the second year in a row as part of the punishment handed down by Major League Baseball following the sign-stealing scandal.
Since the qualifying offer was implemented in 2012, only eight of the 90 players to receive one have accepted, including Astros outfielder Colby Rasmus ($15.8 million in ’16). That didn’t work out so well for the Astros, who saw Rasmus hit .206/.286/.355 and finish with a career-low .641 OPS in 417 plate appearances that season.
So it wasn’t totally a surprise the Astros didn’t extend a qualifying offer to veteran outfielder Michael Brantley, who is a free agent again after the two-year, $32-million contract he signed with Houston prior to the 2018 season expired. That became especially true considering Brantley started more than half of his games this year at designated hitter while Yordan Alvarez was out following surgery on his knees. Alvarez will be back at DH next year.
Springer, 31, is one of the biggest names on the free-agent market this offseason, and his decision about where to play in 2021 will have huge ramifications on the Astros going forward. It’s expected that Houston will make him a long-term contract offer, but several other teams figure to be in the market for his services.
The Astros will return Kyle Tucker to one of their three outfield starting spots in 2021 but will need to find replacements for Springer and Brantley if they don’t return. That will be their top focus heading into James Click’s first offseason as Astros general manager.
One of the most accomplished and popular players in Astros history, the high-flying Springer has been one of the core players during a winning era in which the Astros advanced to the AL Championship Series each of the past four seasons, including a World Series win in 2017 and an American League pennant in ’19. He was the MVP of the ’17 Fall Classic.
This year, Springer overcame a slow start to hit .265 with 14 homers, 32 RBIs and .899 OPS in 51 games. He hit four homers in the postseason, helping Houston to within one game of reaching the World Series, while extending his club record to 19 postseason homers. That’s tied with Albert Pujols for fourth most in MLB history.
Brantley, 33, hits free agency coming off another solid season in Houston, hitting.300 with five homers, 22 RBIs and a .840 OPS in 46 regular-season games. In the postseason, he hit .346/.424/.558 with three homers and 11 RBIs in 13 games.
Raley option exercised
The Astros on Sunday exercised the $2 million option for ‘21 on left-handed relief pitcher Brooks Raley, who appeared in 17 regular-season games for the Astros after coming over in a trade with the Reds on Aug. 9. The 32-year-old proved to a be valuable hand in the bullpen, stranding 12 of 13 inherited runners and holding lefties to a .129 batting average while with the Astros.
Raley appeared in six games in the playoffs, posting a 2.18 ERA with nine strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings (14.29 strikeouts per nine innings). Opponents had an 80.7 average exit velocity and .210 expected batting average against Raley in the postseason.
Osuna, Devenski become free agents
On Friday, the Astros trimmed their 40-man by five players when right-handed pitchers Chase De Jong, Chris Devenski and Roberto Osuna and catcher Dustin Garneau cleared waivers and became free agents. The team also lost right-hander Carlos Sanabria, who was claimed off waivers by the Royals after making his Major League debut this year.
Osuna, who led the AL with 38 saves in 2019, pitched in four games in ’20 before suffering a season-ending right arm injury. Osuna made $10 million (before proration) and was arbitration eligible, but the Astros freed up some money and a roster spot by cutting ties with the controversial closer.
Devenski, a key member of Houston’s bullpen in 2016-17, also appeared in only four games in '20 and wound up having an arthroscopic procedure on his right elbow on Sept. 16 to have a bone spur removed. After posting a 2.38 ERA and 0.93 WHIP in 110 appearances for Houston in ’16-17, Devenski had a 4.88 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 115 appearances from ’18-20.
The moves leave the Astros with only three arbitration-eligible players: utility man Aledmys Diaz, shortstop Carlos Correa and right-hander Lance McCullers Jr. The deadline for the Astros to tender contracts to arbitration-eligible players is Dec. 2, which they will certainly do with all three players.