In the wake of the Astros’ banging scheme coming to light, several Astros hitters had down years, but George Springer was immune to any sort of karmic justice. Bang or no bang, Springer was one of the best hitters in the league and there’s an argument to be made that he’s the best bat on the market. Before any signs were stolen, Springer was the cover model for Houston’s future dominance, and he delivered on that promise.
In seven years, Springer has never had a below average season at the plate. His worst year was 2018 when he only hit for a .340 wOBA and 118 wRC+. By fWAR, the only times he put up less than two wins—the average production of an everyday starter—were his rookie year and 2020 and both were truncated seasons. In 2014, he missed the second half with a quad issue and 2020, of course, was shortened to 60 games. In each half season, he still managed to put up 1.9 fWAR. Simply put, he’s an incredible player.
Over the last two years, Springer has slashed .284/.376/.576 for a 153 wRC+. In 173 games, he’s blasted 53 dingers, maintained a 42.9 hard hit percentage, and a 12.2 percent barrel rate. Combined, he’s been worth 8.4 fWAR with 1.9 of that coming in 2020. That total over the previous two seasons ranked him ninth among all hitters and fifth among outfielders.
Aside from the obvious drawback of his age—Springer will be entering his age 31 season in 2021—Springer hasn’t displayed a ton of weaknesses. His defense was still solid in 2020. He posted 3 DRS and 1 OOA (69th percentile) in the 60-game campaign. He won’t be winning any Gold Gloves or Fielding Bible Awards—his fielding may only be a plus for another season or two—but his glove should still be playable by the end of a five-year deal.
Because Springer was extended a qualifying offer, whichever team that signs him will forfeit a draft pick. At the time of writing, Springer hasn’t officially declined the offer, but he’s expected to do so by Wednesday’s deadline. This may be a slow offseason, but a player of Springer’s caliber should still easily net a contract worth more than the one-year, $18.9 million on the table. The frigid market mostly hurts the players in the middle, but superstars still get their big payday.
It’s hard to think of a team that isn’t clearly made better by adding Springer to the outfield. Perhaps only the Dodgers and their outfield staples of Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger could watch Springer go to another team without thinking of what could have been. That being said, there are teams that have greater need of his services or will pursue him more rigorously and teams that will take themselves out of the running because of frugality. The Pirates, for instance, aren’t going to be booking George Springer for the next five years unless we’re talking about George S. Springer Landscaping.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted that Springer will sign with the White Sox for a five-year, $125 million deal and Craig Edwards at FanGraphs predicted he would sign for five years, $115 million. If the White Sox do wind up signing him, Springer would likely spend most of his time in right field with Luis Robert manning center. With the White Sox declining Edwin Encarnación’s option, Eloy Jiménez will likely fill the DH role which leaves Nomar Mazara and Adam Engel on the corners and neither have ever put up the kind of production expected from a starter. The White Sox need to find help in the outfield and Springer is clearly the best option.
Under new ownership (and a completely overhauled front office), the Mets figure to be active this offseason. With projected arbitration salaries, the Mets’ payroll is sitting around $142 million according to RosterResource (and it’s likely lower than that since we will probably see more players non-tendered this winter than we normally would). The Mets have ample space to land a blockbuster before they approach the luxury tax threshold.
MLB Trade Rumors predicted JT Realmuto would sign with the Mets, but if Steve Cohen misses out on Realmuto, Springer is the next best thing. In the best of all possible worlds, Brandon Nimmo and Dominic Smith are solid, everyday starters. Even if that pair replicates their success in the small-sample season that still leaves Michael Conforto a year from free agency.
Of course, the Astros would be a better team if they were to bring back their homegrown star. RosterResource currently lists Myles Straw as Houston’s starting center fielder. In three partial seasons, Straw has hit .246/.327/.322 for an 83 wRC+, so the Astros should be in the market for outfield help. In their pursuit of Springer, the Astros have the advantage of not having to worry about losing a draft pick, but it’s possible Springer has no intention of returning. Springer didn’t do anything like slap on a Boras cap after the Astros were eliminated in Game 7 of the ALCS, but he also hasn’t been as vocal about returning as Kevin Gausman has been about returning to the Giants.
With the hiring of AJ Hinch, the Tigers have also been mentioned as a landing spot for Springer. He might not be enough to make Detroit a contender right away and that’s even if Spencer Torkelson gets called up and produces immediately. The Tigers need many more pieces to climb their way to the top of the AL Central, but getting Springer would make the rest of their work much, much easier.
No matter where he ends up, Springer’s market will likely be slow to develop. Top free agents usually don’t sign right away, and there’s still a great deal of uncertainty regarding next season with regards to COVID-19 and how that will affect attendance. Monday’s announcement that Pfizer has developed a vaccine that’s 90 percent effective is encouraging on that front (in addition to all the other fronts), but there’s no certainty that games will ever reach 100 percent capacity. Regardless, whoever signs Springer will be very, very happy.
Kenny Kelly is the managing editor of Beyond the Box Score.