When the Astros called up a hotshot outfielder named George Springer early in the 2014 season, it was a benchmark moment for the franchise. On the heels of three consecutive 100-loss seasons, the promotion of Springer -- one of their top prospects -- was a sign the team had turned the corner.
As the Astros grew into a powerhouse, beginning with a surprising run to the playoffs in 2015, Springer became one of the faces of the franchise. With a rare blend of power and speed, he made three All-Star teams and was named the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 World Series in which he hit five homers in the final six games, including the decisive blast early in Game 7.
Saturday’s 4-2 loss to the Rays in Game 7 of the American League Championship Series ended the Astros’ season and perhaps Springer’s tenure in Houston. The high-flying center fielder will be a free agent this offseason, along with fellow starting outfielders Josh Reddick and Michael Brantley. There’s a chance none of them return, though the Astros are expected to make a run at re-signing Springer and/or Brantley.
Still, an era in Astros baseball may have ended with Houston’s title hopes on Saturday. Springer, Brantley and Reddick may have played their final game for the Astros.
“Some guys that we love very much and we’ve been playing with forever, and hopefully they come back, but if they don’t, we’re going to miss them for sure,” shortstop Carlos Correa said. “We’ve got George Springer. He’s been my teammate since I got to the big leagues and been a great leader and role model. He’s been great for this team.
“You got Michael Brantley, who came in two years ago and is just such a professional. Everything about him is professional. You got Reddick. His energy is super contagious. Everything he brought to the ballclub was great. Definitely guys, if they didn’t come back, we’re going to miss them a lot. It’s going to be weird seeing them in another uniform.”
Springer and Brantley, both of whom figure to be highly coveted this offseason, haven’t been willing to talk about their future at any point this season. Reddick, whose signing prior to the ‘17 season was one of the final pieces to Houston’s championship team, has been resigned to the fact he likely won’t return in 2021.
Springer, 31, will be one of the biggest names on the free-agent market this offseason and will be looking to cash in following a regular season in which he posted an .899 OPS with 14 homers and 32 RBIs in 51 games. He hit four postseason homers, giving him a franchise-record 19 in the playoffs. His permanent move to the leadoff spot on May 24, 2016, changed the Astros’ offense for the next five seasons with his ability to start games with a homer.
In the moments following the Game 7 loss to the Rays, in which Springer went 0-for-4, he wasn’t ready to look too far ahead.
“I haven’t really thought about that yet,” he said. “Our season just ended. I’m more focused on kind of what’s happening now, what happened tonight, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”
Brantley, signed to a two-year deal prior to the ’19 season, showed no signs of slowing down through two terrific seasons in Houston. He’s 33 years old but still one of the most pure hitters in the game. He hit .300 with five homers and 22 RBIs in the regular season before batting .346 in the playoffs with three homers and 11 RBIs.
Reddick, meanwhile, has slipped offensively each year in Houston, but he should get a big league deal somewhere. In his first year in ’17, he hit .314 with 13 homers and 82 RBIs and became a crowd favorite in right field. The 33-year-old posted a .693 OPS in 56 games this year. The cry of “Woo!” every time Reddick came to bat echoed through Minute Maid Park for his first three seasons in Houston and showed his popularity with fans.
The Astros will have Kyle Tucker starting in one of their outfield spots next year and will need to fill the other two. Whether that’s re-signing Brantley or Springer, or both, figures to be the biggest storyline of Houston’s offseason.
“I think every year at the end of the year, you look around and it’s gonna be different,” third baseman Alex Bregman said. “I loved every second of playing with those guys. They left it all on the field every single time they took the field. I learned a lot from all of them, and getting to grow up in the big leagues around those guys was pretty special. We’ll be friends for life.”