Who could make a play for Springer?
With Hot Stove season underway, we're taking a close look at some of the most prominent free agents.
Name: George Springer
Position: Outfielder (CF, RF)
2020 team: Houston Astros
Age (as of Opening Day 2021): 31
2020 stats: 51 games, .265/.359/.540, 14 HR, 32 RBIs, 37 R, 140 OPS+
The Astros have been able to keep the core of their 2017 World Series team together in the three years since that championship, signing Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman and Yuli Gurriel to extensions while playing out the arbitration years of Springer, Carlos Correa and Lance McCullers Jr.
Springer never signed an extension with Houston, and now the Astros face the first major decision of James Click’s tenure as general manager as the talented outfielder heads to free agency. The Astros extended Springer an $18.9 million qualifying offer, but will they do what is necessary to keep him in Houston?
Springer has become one of the premier outfielders in the game, averaging 31 homers and an .859 OPS from 16-19. He hit 14 home runs with an .899 OPS in 51 games during the shortened '20 season, putting up good numbers in his free-agent year. Springer also had another strong October, hitting four home runs to bring his career postseason total to 19.
It remains to be seen how teams approach free agency following a season impacted by the pandemic, but Springer should be encouraged after watching the Dodgers give Mookie Betts a $360 million extension. Stars should still be rewarded with healthy deals, and Springer -- the 2017 World Series MVP and a three-time All-Star -- most certainly fits that category.
Owner Jim Crane has said the club is in better financial shape than many others thanks to long postseason runs in recent years, though it should be noted that Houston was over the competitive balance tax threshold for the first time in 2020. Michael Brantley and Reddick are also free agents this offseason, but Springer would be the biggest loss if he were to depart for a new team.
St. Louis’ offense sputtered in 2020, ranking next-to-last in the National League in runs scored, with fewer homers than any team in the Majors. Adding a big bat in the outfield would be an obvious fit, though Yadier Molina’s future (he’s a free agent after finishing a three-year, $60 million contract) could determine whether the Cardinals pursue another big free agent. St. Louis will have more than $50 million set to come off the books after the '21 season, so there’s payroll flexibility going forward.
It was a dismal year for Boston, which finished with the third-worst record in the American League. Pitching remains the biggest need for the Red Sox, but there are a limited number of impact arms available in free agency. Jackie Bradley Jr. is a free agent, so perhaps the move will be to upgrade in center field with Springer, banking on the returns of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez to right the rotation. Springer grew up two hours from Boston in New Britain, Conn., so if being closer to home is a priority, the Red Sox could be an attractive landing spot.
With Steve Cohen's purchase of the Amazins approved by MLB owners, the Mets will likely be viewed as a potential suitor for nearly every prominent free agent. Springer certainly qualifies, though the Mets are expected to focus on J.T. Realmuto and a number of free-agent pitchers. Brandon Nimmo could very well return to play center field, but given Cohen’s deep pockets, a run at Springer can’t be ruled out.
Given the aggressive nature of general manager A.J. Preller, would anything the Padres do be a surprise at this point? San Diego returned to the postseason in 2020 with the second-best record in the NL, but there’s still work to do if the Padres want to overtake the Dodgers in the NL West. With Wil Myers signed for two more years and Tommy Pham under control for one, San Diego might need the designated hitter to return to the NL for a Springer signing to make sense, unless the club moves an outfielder.
The past two offseasons saw Washington lose Bryce Harper and Anthony Rendon to free agency; at some point, the Nationals have to bring in a hitter rather than watching one walk away, right? Michael A. Taylor and Adam Eaton are no longer with the club, leaving vacancies in the outfield. Springer would be a welcome addition to a lineup that ranked 21st in the Majors in home runs this past season.
Re-signing J.T. Realmuto would seem to be the priority for Philadelphia, but what if its All-Star catcher leaves town? The money the Phillies had allocated for Realmuto could be used to sign Springer, adding a potent bat to the lineup in a spot that could use an upgrade.
Another club that returned to the playoffs this season, the Blue Jays are looking for ways to move past the Rays and Yankees in the AL East. Randal Grichuk has been serviceable in center field, but Toronto has been searching for a true center fielder since trading Kevin Pillar at the start of 2019. That said, while the fit for Springer is there, it feels like this would be a big swing for a franchise that has signed just one nine-figure contract in its history (Vernon Wells, seven years, $126 million).
Although the Rangers were able to put their shiny new ballpark on display during the postseason, the club’s objective is to be playing its own games there next October. The Rangers ranked last in the AL in runs scored and OPS in 2020, so the need for a big bat such as Springer is clear. With more than $50 million coming off the books (they declined Corey Kluber’s option), could the Rangers use that money to make a big free-agent splash?
“George Springer is arguably one of the best free agents available this offseason; an athletic player who offers consistent All-Star-caliber production offensively. The ability to contribute power and his ability at the top of lineup should not be lost; he profiles as a bat that can carry a team when he is hot. The defensive side of the ball will be the question for interested teams, mainly his ability to continue to patrol center field. There is still plus speed, but his reads at times can be inconsistent. George plays the game at one speed; as his body ages, one could question his ultimate durability, as well.
“Overall, a talented player who leads by example and impacts every facet of the game at a premium defensive position is likely to garner a significant commitment from a team that believes that he can stay in center field for at least the foreseeable future.”
There aren’t many negative things to say about Springer, who has been a consistently productive player since he made his debut in 2014. If there’s one thing teams may be wary of, it’s the fact that Springer turned 31 in September. The elite free-agent position players of the past couple years -- Manny Machado, Harper and Rendon -- have been in their 20s, giving teams the confidence to sign them to lengthy deals.
FOR COMP'S SAKE
Given the preceding note, it’s not easy to find many recent comps for Springer given his age heading into free agency. Martinez was 30 when he hit the market in the 2017-18 offseason, signing a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox.
Martinez’s career totals entering free agency (152 HR, 476 RBIs, .857 OPS in 772 games) are strikingly similar to Springer’s (174 HR, 458 RBIs, .852 OPS in 795 games), but Springer is a solid defender while Martinez was viewed primarily as a DH.
Springer’s age will prevent him from landing a deal as lengthy as Harper (13 years), Machado (10) or possibly Rendon (seven), but a five- or six-year pact worth $25-30 million annually is a distinct possibility.