The Market for George Springer is Heating Up

As one of the market’s top position players, George Springer is expected to draw heavy interest this winter, and already there have been reports of the Mets and Blue Jays expressing just that. The 31-year-old center fielder is coming off a strong season; not surprisingly, on Wednesday he was among the four free agents who declined qualifying offers from their 2020 teams, along with Trevor Bauer, DJ LeMahieu, and J.T. Realmuto. Springer, however, could be the winter’s only free agent besides Realmuto to land a contract of at least $100 million.

Springer got off to such a slow start in 2020 that he was hitting .194/.331/.388 as late as September 2nd while pulling the ball an astronomical, out-of-character 51.3% of the time. But while the Astros struggled down the stretch, he finished strong with nine homers and a .703 slugging percentage in his final 23 games and 100 plate appearances. Overall, he hit .265/.359/.540 with 14 homers and finished in virtual ties for ninth in the AL in both wRC+ (146) and WAR (1.9). Given the shortened season, he couldn’t approach the career highs he set in either homers (39) or WAR (6.5) in 2019, and while the same turned out to be true about his wRC+ (156), the difference wasn’t nearly so large as it appeared to be given that season’s raw rate stats (.292/.383/.591):

George Springer Batted Ball Profile
Year GB/FB GB% FB% Barrel% EV LA xAVG xSLG xwOBA
2015 1.51 45.4% 30.1% 9.5% 89.9 9.1 .274 .467 .367
2016 1.53 48.2% 31.5% 10.5% 89.4 8.7 .261 .469 .362
2017 1.43 48.3% 33.8% 9.1% 89.2 9.6 .294 .530 .390
2018 1.43 49.4% 34.6% 8.9% 88.6 9.5 .255 .463 .351
2019 1.25 44.6% 35.7% 14.1% 89.8 10.4 .288 .582 .404
2020 0.83 35.9% 43.1% 12.4% 88.7 18.3 .294 .570 .387
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Springer hit more fly balls than grounders for the first time in his career in 2020, and his final pull rate of 48.0% was 7.7 percentage points above last year’s mark and eight points above his career mark. His average launch angle increased significantly, but his expected batting average and slugging percentage were more or less unchanged from 2019. The hits just didn’t fall in to the same extent: His .259 BABIP was a career low and placed him in the bottom quintile among qualified hitters. Still, his September hot streak suggests he ironed things out, and his 146 wRC+ was five points above his career mark. Plus, he struck out a career-low 17.1% of the time, lest anyone think that his gains in that area — which started to show up in 2017, after he’d struck out 26.0% of the time in his first three seasons — were simply a product of the Astros’ sign-stealing shenanigans.

Speaking of which, Jake Mailhot’s analysis of Houston’s banging scheme suggested that while Springer did well in medium-leverage situations, he was below average in both high- and low-leverage situations, suggesting that the overall effect on his production wasn’t huge. That’s not to justify his participation, but to suggest that there’s little reason to think that it’s distorting his future projections. When the Astros opened camp in mid-February, Springer expressed remorse in participating, though the money quote of his that circulated was more of the sorry-we-were-caught variety rather than the sorry-I-screwed-up type. Via the Hartford Courant’s Dom Amore:

“There is no real way to express how much regret we have, how much remorse we have. I’m sorry that we are in this situation today. I regret the fact that we are in this situation today. I feel horrible for our sport, our game, our fans, our city, our organization, just fans in general. The way that our team is being viewed, it’s unfortunate. It was unnecessary.”

For some, that may not be enough, but it was about par for the course among the implicated Astros, and after Springer’s strong performance in 2020, presumably without aid, his involvement is unlikely to slow interest in his services. The nearly instant hirings of the previously suspended Alex Cora and A.J. Hinch to manage again clearly illustrate how quick the industry is to forgive, or at least forget, the sign-stealing transgressions of those who have proven themselves adept at the job in question (which, I think, explains why Carlos Beltrán has not yet gotten another shot at managing, fairly or not).

Anyway, beyond his work at the plate, Springer continued to show his capability in center field. In 338 innings there — yes, small sample, thank you for noting — he was 0.4 runs below average according to UZR but six above average via DRS, and one out above average via Statcast. His 2019 numbers were well into the black (3.9 UZR, 7 DRS, 3 OAA in 540.1 innings), and he was well above average in right field as well (4.9 UZR, 5 DRS, 5 OAA in 374.1 innings). In other words, while he may not quite be Gold Glove worthy, he’s hardly a liability there. His 82nd percentile sprint speed is on par with his 2019 showing, and better than the two years before that; it doesn’t appear that he’s lost a step yet.

One knock on Springer is his durability. Aside from playing all 162 games in 2016, he’s never played in more than 140 in a season; from 2017 to ’19, he averaged just 134 games per year. Some of the injuries are fluky ones, however. He missed just over two months in ’15 due to a fractured right wrist, suffered when he was hit by an Edinson Volquez pitch; lost a couple weeks to a left quad strain in ’17; served a 10-day stint in ’18 due to a strained left thumb sustained while sliding head-first; and missed a month due to a Grade 2 strain of his left hamstring in ’19. He steered clear of the injured list this past season, but he did miss the better part of a week due to a right wrist strain as well as a couple of games due to an elbow contusion.

Even with that history, Springer should appeal to any team with an opening in center field and designs on contending, though he’d clearly also be a plus in right, which expands his market even further. He’s said to not want to return to Houston, where beyond the stigma of what’s transpired, his service clock was conspicuously gamed. After rejecting a seven-year, $23 million extension before he’d even made his major league debut, he was kept in the minors just long enough to fall six days short of reaching free agency last winter, when he could have tapped into a pre-pandemic market while heading into his age-30 season.

As Springer rejected a qualifying offer, the team that signs him will lose a draft pick, though with no team exceeding the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, the most draconian penalty (the loss of a team’s second- and fifth-highest selections in the following year’s draft as well as $1 million from its international bonus pool) is off the table. For the teams mentioned below, that means losing the second-highest pick as well as $500,000 from their international bonus pool; I don’t think any of the following teams received revenue sharing in 2020, which would subject them to losing only their third-highest selection for such a signing. Eyeballing Craig Edwards’ research, the loss of a team’s second-highest pick might fall in the $4–8 million range in terms of future yield — probably not a dealbreaker given the scale of the final contract.

The Mets, who just received a shot in the arm in the form of a new owner (Steve Cohen) who appears ready to change the team’s tight-fisted ways, have been reported as having “ongoing interest” in adding a star outfielder. Of this year’s free agent class, that best describes Springer and Marcell Ozuna. But after so many years of mismatched outfield parts, with Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto stretched too far in center field (they have UZR/150s of -11.8 and -13.2, respectively, at the position over the past three seasons), Springer would be the clear choice, flanked by that pair. That said, defensive whiz Jackie Bradley Jr. would be a lower-cost option that would presumably allow the Mets to focus on Realmuto or Bauer (or perhaps both), since catching and the rotation are areas of need for them, too.

The Blue Jays are poised to be one of the winter’s more aggressive spenders, and they’re reportedly interested in Springer or Bradley. That figures, given Randal Grichuk’s woes in center field (-3.6 UZR, -15 DRS in 2019–20), which offset much of his offensive value. Grichuk, who is owed $29 million over the next three seasons, could platoon with the lefty-swinging Bradley while also backing up Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Teoscar Hernández at the corners, or serve as a trade candidate if Toronto lands Springer and needs to offload some portion of his salary.

The White Sox, who have center fielder Luis Robert under club control through 2027, are looking to upgrade in right, where Nomar Mazara was a flop after being acquired from the Rangers. MLB Trade Rumors’ Tim Dierkes predicted the South Side as Springer’s landing spot via a five-year, $125 million deal, which is a bit more lucrative than the predictions from Craig Edwards ($115 million) or our median crowdsource ($110 million). The question, however, is whether owner Jerry Reinsdorf will put the White Sox in that ballpark. While they have previously telegraphed interest in big-ticket players such as Manny Machado, last year’s $73 million deal with Yasmani Grandal set a franchise record — the fifth-lowest such guarantee among the 30 teams. Coming from a major market such as Chicago, that history sticks out like a sore thumb. The White Sox aren’t going to land Springer by moving only incrementally beyond that figure.

The Nationals would also appear to be a fit for Springer, particularly after a season in which they received above-average offense only from left fielder Juan Soto, shortstop Trea Turner, and the catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki. They’re probably not ready to give up on center fielder Victor Robles despite his age-23 season being a dud (65 wRC+, -0.5 WAR), but Springer could provide insurance there while taking over right field, which is vacant after the team declined the option of Adam Eaton.

The Red Sox need to replace Bradley and upgrade an offense that has fallen on hard times. Now that they’re under the Competitive Balance Tax threshold, they could pursue Springer, who hails from Connecticut and has ties to Cora, who served as the Astros’ bench coach in 2016–17.

Doubtless there are other teams who could be fits for Springer, but with few hints of any specifically targeting him, I’ll avoid further speculation. It’s clear that there are enough clubs that need a big bat who can play center or right field for him to have a competitive market for his services, though how soon he strikes a deal is anybody’s guess.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

newest oldest most voted
chappdave
Member
Member
chappdave

I hope teams consider how many fans think he should’ve been banned for cheating before making him an offer. I certainly would stop watching if he were on my team.

Connor Grey
Member
Member
Connor Grey

He cheated and I’m still pissed about it but he’s a really good player and I want him on my favorite team.

Smiling Politely
Member
Member
Smiling Politely

I loathe the Astros and want their championship taken away, but if TLR is wearing a uniform, Alex Cora is managing, and Carlos Correa is running his mouth off, I don’t think George Springer is*the problem* or an economic impediment (or should we bring up Daniel Murphy, Trevor Bauer, etc.)

VinnieDaGooch
Member
VinnieDaGooch

I’ll never understand you weirdos who keeping a running list in their head of every player who has had a controversy or said something that offended you.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I have a running list. Murphy and Bauer aren’t on it.

But Roberto Osuna is.

bluerum29
Member
bluerum29

Whats the issue with Daniel Murphy?

EonADS
Member
EonADS

Homophobia.

bluerum29
Member
bluerum29

So he actually stated that he hates gay people?

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I’ve never quite figured out what he was trying to say. It was in reference to a specific gay person, and Murphy more or less said “I think he’s engaged in an immoral lifestyle but I should get to know him anyway; no reason not to get to know him and see what he’s like.” You can read his comments about 10 different ways.

Although I do wish Murphy would change his mind about this, I don’t wish ill on him. I’d root for my team if he was on it. Not like if a team decided they wanted Josh Lueke on their team (and two different teams did!).

bluerum29
Member
bluerum29

So he said he would still be fine with getting to know the person. Doesn’t sound like there is any hate there in that situation. Nothing wrong there.

hebrew
Member
Member
hebrew

except for the whole “his life is immoral” thing

bluerum29
Member
bluerum29

actually it was “engaged in an immoral lifestyle”. You can believe that someone does something wrong/immoral and still get to know them without having any hate or ill will towards them.

Spa City
Member
Spa City

The left uses toxic words like “hate” to control you. Any sign that you do not fully support their agenda and they accuse you of “hating” people.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

Get over yourself.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

I actually read the words he said just a moment ago, because I was unaware of any controversy. “I disagree with his lifestyle. I do disagree with the fact that Billy (Bean) is a homosexual.”

Immoral is certainly implied, given that he cited his faith as reasons for feeling as he does, but it’s not like he came out verbally queer-bashing. He simply said that he disagrees. That’s a personal opinion tactfully put, and he was willing to set a personal prejudice aside to get to know and work with the man as someone other than, or more than, just a gay man.

Now, I’m a staunch ally of the alphabet community, and I feel that his disagreements are borne of ignorance; however, I don’t think he should be strung up for them. Given his open stance on getting to know one person despite his beliefs, he may be willing to learn a little about what it means to be non-straight or non-Christian.

Maybe I’m just being willfully naïve, but the country could use a little setting aside of prejudice and listening to the other side for a bit.

bootydonger
Member
bootydonger

He needs a message from George Takei.

gtagomori
Member
Member
gtagomori

It’s the owner who skated and the analytics folks. They needed to write a program to translate the video to a pitch prediction within a second or so to have enough time to signal the batter. The analytics guys are the ones with the technical ability. And there is no way the owner isn’t aware of this sort of thing. IMO of course.

Dmjn53
Member
Dmjn53

Eat a Snickers