Back around 2013, uninformed media personalities like Evan Dreilich and Jake Buchanan’s (remember him!) better half were making comments to the effect that Houston would never spend money, and that their young talent would eventually find a winning team when they could sign with New York or LA. How quaint! But at the time it provoked some hand-wringing because, well, the Astros were historically bad and literally everything was going wrong. This is all to say that, whatever Luhnow’s genius, the Astros would only become a franchise of lasting impact if they could lock up their guys, and even then, only if they locked up the right guys.
Since then, we’ve wondered and speculated about who would be first, who would be willing, and who would break our hearts with a little help from Scott Boras. Last winter we learned that Jose Altuve would be first, and the reigning MVP signed a contract that seemed perfect. Would Correa be next? I always favored a joint signing, where they trolled Allen Trammell and Lou Whitaker, but I’ve never been an optics expert.
2018 produced a new MVP candidate (Bregman) and a new “must keep” ace (Cole), but if the season proved anything to me, it’s that George Springer should be the next guy we lock up.
When the Astros drafted Springer in 2011 (1-11), he was most often compared to Mike Cameron. He was a middle-order bat who could play elite CF, and steal bases. His 2012 season was good, but 2013 made him a top 25 prospect. He destroyed both AA and AAA, and would have had a 40/40 season if the All-Star game counted. He would have made September that year much less miserable for the 57 fans still watching, but he was held down to get an extra year of control.
2014 was peak Springer. He came up in May, hit with power, struck out at a Gallo-ian rate, and walked a ton. He was a rare breed: he never swung out of the zone, but was simply bad at making contact in the zone. When he did, it went far. He put up 1.9 WAR in 78 games, and his season ended with an injury. We can’t review the whole career, but here’s what he’s done in the last four seasons:
- walk rate steady (never below 10%, never above 12%)
- K rate decreasing, from astronomical, to manageable, to above average
- power fluctuating (his best power years were 2014 and 2017)
- always good. Here are Springer’s wRC+ by year: 129, 133, 126, 140, 119. Here’s his WAR the past four years: 3.9, 4.9, 4.6, 2.9.
- In case you’re living under a rock the size of the earth, Springer has also played some postseason games. Here’s his career slash in 32 games: 308/388/638. That’s an OPS over 1.000.
Can I talk a little about George the man? He’s the happiest, most energetic guy on the field, and he gives Altuve a run for his money in humility off the field. I’m not crazy about athletes as role models, but I would love for my sons to meet George Springer. If Altuve is the Astros’ heart, Springer is the soul.
The Astros have roughly 50 million to spend in AAV. I want Morton back, I want Realmuto in a trade, I want McHugh as the #4 starter, and I want Springer locked up.
Last winter he signed 2/24, so next year he’s making what he made in 2018. 2020 is his last arb. year. What if the Astros offer Springer, who just turned 29, a deal that would keep him in Houston through his age-34 season? If he’s likely to make 14 million in his last year of arb, and then hits the FA market at 30, what would George command? Charlie Blackmon got 6/108, but that deal ate up more arb years. Would 5/125 do it for Springer? It’s not quite Altuve’s 5/151, but there’s less to buy out. If you assume that a strong 2019 nets Springer about 14 million, 5/125 then becomes 4/111, and is close to Altuve’s AAV. I don’t think he would balk at that.
But why compare Springer to Altuve? Springer still has the classic “toolsy” label, and seems like a swing-happy power hitter even when he isn’t. If Springer has shown one thing, it’s an ability to adjust and become a different kind of player. He learned a two-strike approach, he hits to all fields, and there’s no reason to think he would not keep his power through his age-34 season. Unlike Altuve, he doesn’t depend on infield hits and a high BABIP to maintain his offensive profile.
Past 2020, Altuve is the only Astro owed money. Correa’s injury needs to be understood before even attempting to sign him, and I’m sure he’ll want Harper money if he’s healthy, and he will deserve it. Bregman’s agent probably won’t let him sign away his future unless it’s something like 10/300. Sign Springer! Indicate to your fans and to your clubhouse that Springer and Altuve are franchise cornerstones, likely to be forever Astros. And let him provide us some more glorious postseason memories.