George Springer is no stranger to the big moment, with a World Series MVP Award and 19 career playoff homers on his résumé. And while we’re a long way from the 2021 postseason, the free-agent center fielder could play a big part in deciding which team wins a title this fall.
Virtually every club would benefit from signing the 31-year-old, a career .270/.361/.491 hitter and three-time All-Star. But when it comes specifically to the 2021 World Series crown, these are the clubs with whom Springer would have the greatest impact, ranked in order based on how close to title contention the veteran slugger would put them.
The Mets made the biggest splash of the Hot Stove season last week, acquiring shortstop Francisco Lindor and starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco from Cleveland for four players. New York previously re-signed starter Marcus Stroman and added reliever Trevor May and catcher James McCann. Even if the Mets don’t make another notable addition, this offseason is going to go down as a major success.
But New York shouldn’t stop now. According to FanGraphs’ Depth Charts projections, the Mets are expected to have the best pitching staff in the game but are still a bit behind the Dodgers and Padres overall.
MLB projected team WAR totals (via FanGraphs)
Springer, who is projected for nearly 4.0 WAR in 2021, would not only give the Mets a bona fide starting center fielder but also improve their left-field situation, as Brandon Nimmo would shift from center to left.
In his career, Nimmo has posted -14 Defensive Runs Saved as a center fielder and +5 DRS as a left fielder. His Outs Above Average total in left field since 2017 is +5, compared to -1 in center. Springer has recorded +3 OAA in center (+4 OAA in RF) in that same time frame, and he has amassed +8 DRS as a center fielder in his career.
As it stands, the Mets don’t have a starting left fielder, with Jeff McNeil taking over at second base for the suspended Robinson Canó. Dominic Smith has played there in the past, but Mets president Sandy Alderson made it clear that he’s not comfortable with the slugger starting regularly in left. The Mets are holding out hope that the NL will ultimately have the designated-hitter spot in 2021.
With Pete Alonso at first base, there’s some concern that bringing in an everyday outfielder would further limit Smith’s playing time, assuming there’s no DH spot. But if the Mets aren’t committed to Smith as their starting left fielder, his situation shouldn’t impact their pursuit of Springer.
2) White Sox
MLB.com’s Matt Kelly made the case last month for why Chicago needs to pursue Springer, noting that the AL Central was essentially a dead heat between the White Sox, Twins and Indians. Now that Cleveland has traded Lindor and Carrasco, it could be a two-team race.
But the White Sox shouldn’t just be looking to win a division title. The addition of Springer would arguably make them the favorite in the entire American League.
While the NL has two elite clubs in the Dodgers and Padres, the AL is wide open. Just look at some of the players these 2020 AL playoff teams have subtracted this offseason (assuming those who haven't moved already don't re-sign).
A’s: Liam Hendriks, Marcus Semien
Astros: Springer, Michael Brantley
Indians: Lindor, Carrasco, Brad Hand, Cesar Hernandez, Carlos Santana
Rays: Blake Snell, Hunter Renfroe
Twins: Nelson Cruz, Jake Odorizzi, Eddie Rosario, Tyler Clippard
Yankees: DJ LeMahieu, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton, J.A. Happ
The White Sox, meanwhile, lost Alex Colomé to free agency but have added Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton and, per a source, Liam Hendriks.
Signing Springer would lessen the team’s reliance on Luis Robert, who won a Gold Glove Award in center field but had a .409 OPS and a 34% strikeout rate in September, and 2019 No. 3 overall Draft pick Andrew Vaughn, who hasn’t played above Class A Advanced. It would also make a bounceback season from Eaton (.669 OPS in 2020) less imperative and allow Eloy Jiménez (-14 OAA in ’19-20) to see more time at DH.
The Braves have won the NL East in each of the past two seasons, and they were one game from the World Series in 2020, taking a 3-1 lead over the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series.
Their rotation should be much improved in 2021. Mike Soroka will be back after missing most of last year with a torn left Achilles tendon, and Ian Anderson is ready for his first full season. Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly are now in the fold, too.
On offense, the Braves are led by reigning NL MVP Freddie Freeman and Ronald Acuña Jr., with Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies and Travis d'Arnaud serving as a solid supporting cast.
Yet, Atlanta’s projected fWAR total of 34.8 places the team well behind the Dodgers, Padres and Mets in the NL.
Part of the problem is that the Braves haven’t replaced their top two home run hitters from last season, Marcell Ozuna and Adam Duvall, who combined for 34 round-trippers.
Ozuna in particular is a huge loss, as he hit .338/.431/.636 in 60 games. He’s still available, but Atlanta may be hesitant to re-sign him with no guarantee that there will be a universal designated hitter in 2021. Ozuna made 39 of his 60 starts as the Braves’ DH in 2020.
Springer doesn’t come with the same defensive concerns as Ozuna, and he could fill the offensive void. Here's how similar Steamer projects the two to be on offense in 2021.
Springer: .270/.363/.503, 126 wRC+
Ozuna: .277/.357/.514, 125 wRC+
4) Blue Jays
The Blue Jays are a team on the upswing, with a collection of highly touted young players and a farm system that could continue to bear fruit.
The club is reportedly willing to increase payroll after making the postseason in 2020, and it has been connected to Springer throughout the offseason. Toronto arguably needs him more than any team on this list.
The Blue Jays actually had one of the game’s most productive outfields last season, as Teoscar Hernández and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. both improved, but FanGraphs doesn’t expect the team to get 2.0 WAR from any outfield spot in 2021.
Springer would give the club’s lineup a battle-tested veteran star, much like Hyun Jin Ryu was for the pitching staff last season.
So why don't they rank higher? Mainly because the other teams on this list are closer to being finished products.
The Jays have a bunch of question marks in their rotation and bullpen, and they need more production from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. They're also part of the AL East, and the Rays and Yankees aren't going away.
Still, a Springer signing could go a long way toward helping the Blue Jays establish themselves as an AL power in 2021.
Thomas Harrigan is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @HarriganMLB.