When news broke by national sources that George Springer had turned down a seven-year $23 million contract extension from the Astros last September, it created a bit of a media whirlwind. Then, just this morning, we find out that the Astros have optioned Springer to the minors, leaving him with this:
George Springer has been optioned to Minor Leagues. Said they told him to "go handle your business," and that's what I'm going to go do.— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) March 20, 2014
You're probably expecting me to overreact to this. To WRITE ALL IN CAPS LOCK AS I VENT THE FURY OF A THOUSAND SUNS. But, that's not what you're getting. Instead, we're using a Bill Simmons convention and taking a page from the movie, And The Band Played On. We're going to take this story and see what we think, what we know and what we can prove.
What we think
Go listen to some of the podcasts from last summer. That's when I started banging the drum for Springer's call-up. I even suggested Houston sign him to an extension, much like the one they tried. I wasn't the only one who thought of this, but it does show where everyone was at as far back as 2013.
The national media thinks this is about the Astros "extorting" Springer and that "Jeff Luhnow lied through his teeth."
We think that Springer is unhappy and that his camp leaked the story to Ken Rosenthal.
We think that George Springer is ready to play in the majors right now. Well, maybe "we" don't, but I do. If he didn't hit his way onto the team this spring, he certainly did with his performance in Triple-A last season. Is there any doubt that if Jon Singleton had done the same in OKC last year, that he'd be the starting first baseman right now? Ditto Springer.
We think the Astros offered him an extension, though that is unconfirmed by the team.
We think the Astros won't call him up now
What we know
We know George Springer didn't hit this spring.
We know that he has significant contact issues, a very high strikeout rate and his success in 2013 was fueled by insanely high batting averages on balls in play at both Double- and Triple-A.
We know the Astros have a Director of Decision Sciences and a great analytics team. We also know they place a set value on players like Jose Abreu or Masahiro Tanaka and don't deviate from them.
We know Springer will be playing right field when he does get called up, because of Dexter Fowler.
We know Houston did not pursue any free agents for the right field spot this winter who would have blocked Springer, all the crazy Shin-Soo Choo rumors aside.
We know Houston had very real 40-man roster issues heading into the Rule 5 draft, and that played a big part in the decision not to call Springer up.
What we can prove
Not a damn thing.
This story is speculative. The fallout is unfortunate. The fans will have to wait. Do we know that Springer directed his agents to leak this story to Rosenthal? No. Do we know that Springer needs work? Yes. Is this whole thing a huge bummer? Absolutely.
Springer has issues he needs to work on. He hasn't made great contact this spring against major league pitching. A month or two in Triple-A could do him plenty of good. It will also give Houston an extra year of service time if he comes up more than 14 days into the season.
But, what do the Astros have to gain by keeping him down until July? What will they learn in an extra 100 plate appearances they didn't see last season? More importantly, how will Triple-A competition show them what he can do against major leaguers?
For all his hype and performance last season, Springer is still a 24-year old prospect with strikeout problems. How many highly rated guys have we seen have elite walk rates in the minors but fail to translate that to the majors because they don't hit the ball enough? (Looking at you, Trogdor).
That's to say, Springer has a very high chance of busting out and not becoming the future superstar we all anticipate. We'd all like to see that, and there's a good chance he gets to that Mike Cameron-esque ceiling. But, for now, Springer is a risk.
That the Astros were willing to invest $23 million on this guy should give us a ton of confidence in his future. It should also give us confidence the Astros are willing to spend to keep their own guys in-house. But, we shouldn't blame Springer for turning it down. He traded the security of a deal for the risk of injury or poor performance, but also a chance to make much, much more than that. What if he does reach his ceiling, but a knee injury ends his career after six years? If he makes $35 million in arbitration, he's still better off, right?
As fans, we have a tendency to side with the club on all matters like this. Of course we want to see Springer do well, but we also want to see the Astros win. A player shouldn't take precedent over a team, right? Except that's not fair of us. That's missing the point that these guys are people, just trying to play a game that has a very high turnover rate. Should we blame them for trying to make as much as they can? What will George Springer do after baseball?
I know, not a lot of sympathy derived from a guy trying to get an extra $10 million, when that's monopoly money to most people. But, it's worth noting that we maybe shouldn't always side with the club on these things.
In the end, this all comes down to money, though. The Astros will talk about Springer "taking care of business," of learning right field and forcing his way up. But, it's always all about the money. If Houston had locked Springer up, he'd be starting on Opening Day. Now, though, Houston fans will have to wait longer to see him play at Minute Maid Park.