In this installment, we debated George Springer.
Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter, moderator): Taking nothing away from Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto, George Springer’s free-agent candidacy may be the most talked about and scrutinized of the offseason. The list of potential suitors is long. Even in today’s economic climate, the bidding for Springer could be robust. How close do you think we’ll get to a more traditional bidding war for him?
Ian Browne (@IanMBrowne, Red Sox beat reporter): I don't think it will be Bauer-level because of how valuable it is to have that ace pitcher, but I think there will be a competitive market for George.
Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand, executive reporter): Springer’s position puts him in that category. Not every team needs a catcher (Realmuto) and not every team will be in the position to pay a pitcher $30 million-plus per year. Springer can play all three outfield positions, would make every lineup in the game better and pretty much does it all on both sides of the game.
Browne: Plus he has championship pedigree, adding to Mark's point. Huge big-game player.
Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart, Astros beat reporter): I think there are a few teams who have room to spend some money regardless of climate – hello, Mets -- and so I think Springer will be coveted. The fact he's a very good defensive player who is crazy athletic, has power and has a big-time October pedigree (19 playoff homers), will have a few teams opening the wallets.
Anne Rogers (@anne__rogers, Cardinals beat reporter): I am interested to see what teams are prepared to spend on him. The Cardinals, for example, are looking to decrease payroll. So that's going to change the type of contract they want to give Springer.
Footer: Let’s start with the Astros. Tags, we’re putting you on the spot -- do you think he’ll re-sign with the Astros?
McTaggart: No, I don't. I think there's a couple of things in play. First, I think the money might get to be too much for the Astros, who are now facing Carlos Correa entering free agency after the '21 season and some upgrades they'll need to make in their pitching staff.
Secondly, I'm not so sure he wants to stay in Houston. As you may know, the atmosphere here hasn't been great for the past year, though a surprising run to within a game of the World Series helped. Still, I could see him wanting to escape Houston and try to distance himself from the sign-stealing scandal. The players who were on the team in '17 and have gone elsewhere seemed to have had an easier time putting it behind them than those still in Houston.
Footer: Mark listed eight teams other than the Astros who could be in the play: Cardinals, Red Sox, Padres, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Blue Jays and Rangers. The Cardinals are an intriguing team. How much do they need him?
Rogers: They need offense, and as we've discussed above, Springer can bring offense. He would be a great fit to complement Paul Goldschmidt in the lineup and could add the offensive production the Cardinals have lacked in the outfield the past two years. From what you all have said about his leadership qualities, I think he'd be a good fit in their clubhouse, too.
Feinsand: When the Cardinals declined the $12.5 million option on Kolten Wong, the first thing that came to mind was, “Are they saving that money for Springer?”
St. Louis has shown a willingness to spend for a player it wants. With Yadier Molina’s $20 million off the books (even if he comes back, it will be for less) and the Wong savings, I could see the Cardinals making a play for Springer. They were next-to-last in the National League in runs scored, with fewer homers than any team in the Majors. The Cards also have more than $50 million coming off the books after 2021, so the contract could be structured to give them some relief in 2021.
Rogers: The Cardinals already have a big guaranteed payroll in 2021. I agree, Mark, the contract would have to include some deferred money for after this season.
Feinsand: I think we’re going to see a lot of that for teams signing free agents to multi-year deals this offseason. Lower salaries in 2021, with some of these contracts backloaded.
McTaggart: Not surprisingly, money will be a huge issue. Springer is a free agent at 31. This is his lone shot at a big free-agent contract. It's not the year you want to have that, but it's where he's at. He's going to try to get his market worth.
Feinsand: I think he will. We saw Mookie Betts get $365 million during a pandemic-altered season. Springer won’t be in that territory, obviously, but a five-year deal in the $110 million-$125 million range feels realistic.
Rogers: The Cardinals haven't really given any indication what they'll do this offseason -- except to say that they are planning to reduce payroll for 2021.
Browne: That sounds like a bit of a red flag for their chances at Springer.
Rogers: I'd have to agree, Ian, but I still wouldn't rule them out completely. What a great fit Springer would be for St. Louis. If they truly want him, they can make it happen.
Footer: The Red Sox are obviously in play, too. What makes them a good fit?
Browne: Jackie Bradley Jr. is likely leaving as a free agent. The Red Sox need to fill his spot in the lineup and in the outfield. Springer went to UConn. His roommate was Matt Barnes, current Red Sox reliever. They are very tight.
Boston manager Alex Cora was the bench coach for Springer in Houston in 2017. The two had a great relationship. When Cora made Mookie his leadoff hitter in '18, he mentioned a million times he was modeling that move after what Springer did as a leadoff man for Houston in '17.
The Red Sox never really replaced Betts. Springer is one of the few who could do a reasonable job of replacing Betts at the top of the order. Alex Verdugo isn't all that comfortable leading off, so they could free him up to bat second or in the middle of the order.
Feinsand: Also, the Red Sox have shown a willingness to sign a free agent in his 30s. I know Dave Dombrowski was running the show at the time, but J.D. Martinez was 30 when he got five years and $110 million from Boston.
Springer, unlike Martinez, is a great outfielder. So even though he’s a year older, I could see the Red Sox giving him five years.
Martinez’s career totals entering free agency: 152 HR, 476 RBI, .857 OPS in 772 games
Springer’s career totals entering free agency: 174 HR, 458 RBIs, .852 OPS in 795 games
Browne: The Sox should also have some money to spend, after quite frankly, being extremely frugal last year to get below the luxury tax. These owners hate losing. The team was embarrassed last year. They could get good PR with Springer.
McTaggart: My one contention with Springer going to the Red Sox and being reunited with Cora is that it swings wide open the sign-stealing scandal questions he could largely escape by signing elsewhere.
Browne: Good point on the sign-stealing stuff, but I think Cora can coach him up on that. Cora hit a home run at his press conference. I think that stuff will go away after a bit. Springer also seems very mentally tough. He might even thrive on getting booed in away parks.
Footer: In most cases, the “playing close to home” factor is a little overblown, but I think Springer may be the exception. He’s from the area and has said he likes Fenway. Family is a big thing for him. From what you know about him, you think the "home" element could carry some weight?
McTaggart: Oh, I think so. He comes from a tight-knit family. His father, George Springer Jr. (the player is George III), and his mother, Laura, still live in New Britain, Conn., and are always at games when the Astros are in that area.
Browne: The one thing Chaim Bloom will hate is giving up the Draft pick. He is trying to rebuild the farm system. It would be a significant pick they would lose to get Springer.
Feinsand: If Boston signs Springer, they would lose their second-highest selection and fifth-highest selection, plus $1 million of international signing bonus pool space. That could be an issue for Bloom, whose DNA from his years with Tampa Bay would make that tough. (Because of the way the compensation rules are for teams that pay or receive revenue sharing, the Astros will only receive a pick after the fourth round if they lose Springer.)
Browne: Bloom is a measured guy. He is very smart. Not overly stubborn. He knows that with some players, you have to make an exception to the normal rule of doing business. If Bloom decides that Springer is worth making that exception for, I expect the Red Sox will be ALL in on this player. And this could be his "I'm not in Tampa Bay anymore" moment, that many Red Sox fans have been waiting for him to have.
Footer: Last question. You have to pick one team where Springer will sign. What say you? Go!
McTaggart: I'm going with the Red Sox. They need him, it's close to home and Ian brought up a great point before about George's relationship with Cora.
Browne: Red Sox. I think it's a win/win. Springer gets back to New England, plays in a market that is as passionate about the game as he is. And the Red Sox can get a player that would generate excitement at a time they truly need it, coming off a demoralizing season in which their fan appeal in the market went way down, as did television ratings.
Rogers: Ian has convinced me. Springer to the Red Sox. The Cardinals will explore a contract, but ultimately, I think they'll find their offense from one of the second- or third-tier free agents.
Feinsand: I’m a contrarian, so I’m going to go off the board on this one and pick a team we haven’t mentioned once: the Toronto Blue Jays. After getting to the postseason in 2020, the Jays want to carry that momentum into '21. They have a great young core, and Springer would be the perfect veteran to lead that clubhouse. All indications are that Toronto has money to spend this offseason, and going all-in with a player like Springer would be a huge sign to the fan base that they’re serious about winning in a tough, competitive division.
My second choice? The Phillies. If they don’t re-sign Realmuto, they’ll need another big bat. Springer would look nice playing next to Bryce Harper.
And I should also mention the Mets here, especially in light of Robinson Canó being suspended for the 2021 season. This not only frees up payroll, but also allows Jeff McNeil to move from left field (where he had been spending most of his time) back to second base, his best position. With a spot in the outfield opened up, Springer suddenly makes more sense in Queens, especially as a way to balance out that lefty-heavy lineup.
Browne: Love the pick on Toronto. Just wonder if their offer would be substantial enough to make him give up what might be more appealing options.
Feinsand: That’s also my thought with Toronto; if they’re going to try to sign him, they will most likely need to make the biggest offer. If they do, he’ll have a real choice to make.