The Market for George Springer is Heating Up by Jay Jaffe November 12, 2020 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.