For all the bluster ad nauseum to follow, it’s probably best that we start there.
Springer’s deal, reported at six years, $150 million, is equipped with a $10 million signing bonus, a $22MM salary in 2021, $28MM in 2022, then $22.5MM each year in 2023–2026. The deal also includes incentives galore for any personal achievements such as MVP ($150K), or Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, World Series MVP, or All-Star selection ($50K for each).
It’s the kind of mega-deal that Springer, 31, envisioned for himself when he finally reached the big leagues early in the 2014 season, just as the Astros were turning the corner from Major League laughingstock to eventual World Series champion, with Springer at the heart of their ascent.
The Astros, it’s been reported widely, weren’t really involved in trying to bring Springer back. Outside of the obligatory qualifying offer of $18.9 million that the Astros made in November, which Springer rejected, Houston never seemed to be ‘in’ on their franchise cornerstone player, opting instead to move forward with no real solution in center field and a compensatory draft pick in the fourth round as a result of the QO Springer rejected.
Perhaps you’ll pardon me for submitting a hypothesis of my own here, but it seems to me, and has for some time, that the Astros, scarred and bruised after a year of fallout from their 2017 sign-stealing scandal revelations, are simply apt to move on from the players that defined that period as their contracts expire and their ages climb.
It’s the elephant in the room; the loudest boos and the most vile heckling is reserved for the core of those great Astros teams — Jose Altuve, Springer, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Yuli Gurriel.
So long as they remain Astros, no matter their individual or collective performance, they will draw a bullseye on the backs of the Astros everywhere they go.
Until the day comes when their misdeeds are put into proper perspective, and even beyond that day, the 2017 Astros, and the core that propelled them to greatness, will live with a Scarlett letter to many in the national eye.
Still, despite the fact that Springer and the Astros appear to have split amicably after a mutually beneficial seven-year partnership, it draws to a close one of the most exciting, fun, and enjoyable careers in Astros history.
George Springer was the heartbeat of the Astros; the kid from Connecticut who grew up idolizing Torii Hunter and overcame a debilitating stuttering impediment to become a vocal leader on a team of homegrown stars and veteran warriors brought in to help get the kids across the finish line.
He developed new dances every season for his compatriots in the outfield that would be executed at the end of every victory, even if he wasn’t out there, and he was the player who most basked in the brightest lights baseball had to offer.
His 19 postseason home runs rank fourth all-time and, assuming his new club in Toronto continues their Astros-like rise, he’ll be adding to that total in an October near you, assuming the new role of veteran stalwart as opposed to the young gun he was just four years ago.
It’s a bitter shame to me that those 2017 Astros will forever be linked with a scandal barely befitting of the term, though I freely concede its nefarious intent and execution.
Had the Astros carried out their misdeeds with Apple watches, silent as the grave and sleek in their usage, as opposed to trash cans and their clearly audible noise pollution, I don’t really think people would levy the same emotional freight that they do.
Perhaps I’m wrong on that, and I’ll leave the door cracked for an opposing argument fit for that fight, but something tells me I’m onto something.
Thing is, trash cans or no trash cans, George Springer just continued to put up quality numbers and improve upon his many hard-earned skills beyond that magical 2017 season.
The 2019 season was, by far, his best yet as he put up a staggering .292/.383/.591/157 wRC+/6.5 WAR line with 39 homers and 96 RBIs in just 122 games. All those numbers were career-highs.
It was no wonder that, just before the pandemic changed all of our lives and mere days before he unexpectedly lost his job as the chief engineer of this great and problematic Astros team, GM Jeff Luhnow rewarded Springer with a $20.2 million salary for the 2020 season in his final year under team control.
I remember seeing that figure and thinking, man, what if Springer pulled an Altuve and a Jon Singleton and had accepted that extension offer from 2013?
What a lot of people seem to forget when it comes to Springer is how screwed up the beginning of his big league career was because it coincided with a period in baseball where service-time manipulation and wage suppression was running rampant throughout baseball with all of the game’s major prospects of the time.
The Astros were absolutely a leader and innovator in this methodology — get as much as you can from a star player while he plays under team control and then, ideally, once he becomes a free agent and, thus, far more expensive, hopefully you have a player coming up through the system that you can replace him with on the cheap.
The idea of the upfront extension is pretty simple, too. Offer a player either on the cusp of their debut, or shortly after it, a long-term extension that buys out all of their pre-arbitration years as well as all of their arbitration years.
If you’re feeling cute, you could even try to lock up their first year of free agency at a bargain-basement price that gives the player more money upfront, but also gives them the potential of losing out on countless millions through the bargaining and arbitration process.
Springer was offered a seven-year, $23 million extension in September 2013 while still at Triple-A Oklahoma City. The Astros, having just signed Altuve that season to a four-year extension worth a paltry $12.5 million, figured they would try to lock up their future core and become the model for financial thriftiness.
Springer declined the extension, betting on himself that he would earn more as the market, and his talents, progressed.
The Astros responded by keeping him in Triple-A, forgoing a certain September call-up that season. They then optioned him to Triple-A again to start the 2014 season, finally promoting him to the big leagues approximately two weeks after the season started, conveniently ensuring a seventh season of team control.
It’s a sore spot for a lot of players in baseball, many of whom are now hitting free agency for the first time and, predictably, are departing their original teams for greener, less bitter pastures.
I’m sure Springer harbored some resentment for that treatment at the outset of his career, but problematic as that treatment was, I don’t believe it had anything to do with his departure now.
Hell, the Blue Jays just pulled this very same stunt with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. a couple seasons ago. Owners and GMs on every team are out to get their players, and the players are out to get them. That’s baseball economics 101.
Springer made just under $50 million as an Astro, and though a lucrative extension would have been a fantastic show of faith a year or two ago, it was clear when an offer never came that Springer’s future was going to take him elsewhere.
Still, with the sign-stealing scandal and the echoes of his introduction to baseball’s harsh economic realities counted, it’s difficult to consider Springer’s Astro career as anything other than a resounding success for both the franchise and the player.
Until a new one comes along, George Springer will remain the only World Series MVP in team history, and even when one does come along, he’ll always be the first.
No one in Houston will ever forget his streak of five straight World Series games with a home run (GMs 4, 5, 6, and 7 in 2017 and GM 1 in 2019), or how well-timed those home runs were, always either tying a game, breaking a tie, or extending a lead.
We won’t soon forget his incredible catch at the wall in Game 6 of the 2017 ALCS, preserving a 3–0 Astros lead in the seventh after Todd Frazier tattooed a Justin Verlander pitch to dead-center, only to have Springer leap up against the wall, preventing a run, and possibly two, from scoring.
I remember seeing Verlander stretch both of his arms upward in celebration of a catch so improbable at the time it was hit that the Yankee baserunners couldn’t tag up to advance because they were both up the baselines so far in anticipation of a hit.
I knew then that the Astros would win the series. Destiny would still take another day, but the Yankees couldn’t hit at Minute Maid Park in that series. They scored only three runs total in all four games on the road and never more than one in the games they did score.
Going into the World Series, the focus was on Springer’s flailing bat. I bristled at the notion some national talking heads offered up of dropping Springer from the leadoff spot to somewhere down the lineup, like sixth.
Manager A.J. Hinch, ever the cool head in moments of tension and duress, displayed his utmost faith in Springer.
He wasn’t rewarded in Game 1 of the series as Springer went 0–4 with four strikeouts against Clayton Kershaw and the vaunted Dodgers bullpen.
But in Game 2, Springer broke through for three hits, including his unforgettable two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning, giving Houston another two-run extra inning lead that they would barely hold onto in what we thought was going to be the craziest game of that World Series.
His shot off of a dead-armed Brandon Morrow in Game 5, which came on the heels of a massive defensive blunder in the top of that 7th inning, added to the drama of what is arguably the greatest baseball game of all time.
In Game 7, his two-run shot off of Yu Darvish extended the Astros’ second inning lead to 5–0, a lead they would not relinquish.
His standing as the most feared leadoff man in baseball will likely continue unimpeded for at least the next couple of years, barring injuries.
He’ll likely help lead Toronto to heights they haven’t seen since the early 1990s and it wouldn’t be remotely surprising to see Springer replacing Joe Carter atop the shoulders of his teammates if the Jays were to repeat a little of that old history, too.
But George Springer’s prime, and likely the greatest team he’ll have ever played on, will always reside here in Houston.
As the years drift away, and careers come to a close, I hope more people come to see the electronic sign-stealing scandal in its proper light and context. The question of right and wrong is both an easy one and indisputable, I won’t litigate that.
But to what effect did it have on the game in comparison to the other scandals and shadow acts that were at play then, before, and even now?
I can know that the next pitch is a curveball or a fastball, sure, but where will it land? Inside? Outside? Up? Down? Was the sign relayed to the batter even correct? Renown as the Astros were for their advanced methods on everything from defensive shifts to spin rate, I can’t imagine a team banging a trash can for all to hear was entirely comprised of nuclear physicists.
I would wager myself that doctoring a baseball, for instance, is far more effective a strategy in creating a domino-effect of negative causation.
But that’s my take on that. My primary thesis, however, lies here — George Springer is easily one of the greatest Astros to ever grace this organization and his name, number, and likeness will be proudly exhibited one day in the Astros’ Hall of Fame. His time with this organization and this city is at an end, but only for now.
Forever an Astro, forever our star.
Thank you, George.