The George Springer Issue


Let’s forget about Comcast for a minute. Not because it doesn’t matter, because it certainly does, but because it gives me a headache. And there really is nothing we can do about it.

Whether or not we can watch and follow the Astros on television is being hashed out in board rooms and court rooms. Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the process, is that it is so confusing. Quite frankly, it is hard for me to follow along with all of the rhetoric, court filings, and legal briefings.

The problem though, is that we are forced to pay attention. It would be nice to know if we will be able to see George Springer‘s major league debut on television in 2014.

But for me, the one true burning question as we are a little less than a month away from the start of Spring Training, is when will we see Springer in Houston?

To say that there are a lot of factors and variables at play regarding Springer is understatement to say the least. Evan Drellich does a very good job of breaking all of this down, but for me it boils down to a few issues. Let’s take a look at Springer from a baseball perspective.

  • For starters, we cannot argue with Springer’s 2013 performance. The outfielder played in 135 combined games between AA and AAA last season and he hit .303 with  37 home runs, 108 RBI’s, and 45 stolen bases. If that doesn’t scream major league ready, I’m not sure what does. There is no way you can keep Springer down in the minor leagues anymore, as there is not much more he can do from a performance perspective.
  • This will be the first Spring Training that Springer attends where he has a real shot at making the Astros. It will be interesting to see how he performs under increased scrutiny. Many, and rightfully so, view Springer as being the first of many saviors for Houston. How the former first round pick responds to this will be intriguing and could factor in determining where he starts 2014. If Springer can continue his momentum from last year, then he certainly deserves to begin the season with Houston. But if he looks over matched, then maybe Springer could use a little more seasoning in AAA.
  • The one weakness that Springer has, is his propensity to strikeout. Last season the  24-year old struck out 161 times. This is a problem that has plagued him throughout his entire career, and is a cause for concern. That will lead to an adjustment period when Springer finally lands in Houston. Drellich alludes to this as the one possible performance related issue that would warrant Springer beginning the year in Oklahoma City.

"Seeing Springer cut down a bit at Class AAA Oklahoma City before promoting him wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Astros. But it may be the case that Springer can’t lessen the strikeouts without changing his entire approach, and it might not be worth asking him to do that unless the approach actually proves problematic in the majors. Waiting to see if he sinks or swims might be wisest."

Of course from a fan relations, and PR standpoint, Springer beginning the year in Houston is the way to go. If the Astros can make a valid case based on performance as to why he needs a little more minor league seasoning, then that is understandable. We all know that Springer will be in Houston by the All-Star break at the latest.

But if it comes down the money, while I would understand it, I’m going to have a hard time with it. And I don’t think I will be alone if that is the case.

If Springer lives up to his potential, he is going to make a lot of money. So does it really matter if he is a free agent after the 2019 or the 2020 season? Jeff Luhnow will have signed him to a long-term extension prior that point anyway. Plus, if the Astros hold Springer back for financial reasons, these are the types of things that agents tend to remember during negotiations.

As we have just gone through the arbitration process, we have seen the salaries that eligible players receive. If the Astros keep Springer in the minor leagues long enough this season, they will then delay his arbitration time table for another year. Again, I get it, but I’m just not sure I’m buying it.

For his part, Luhnow is playing it coy when asked about Springer’s status for next year.

"“We look at every element of player promotion and try and make the best decisions for the organization,” general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “An overarching component of it is whether or not the player’s ready to contribute on an every day basis at the major league level. But there are a lot of other considerations such as who else is playing that position, who the incumbents are, is there going to be meaningful playing time.“The No. 1 thing that we want to make sure when we promote top prospects is that there’s opportunity for them to play every day and that they don’t come up and play off the bench. In those cases, it may be better to keep somebody playing every day until that opportunity is available. I’m not going to comment on contract status or any of that stuff.”"

To me it is simple. If Springer proves he is worthy of starting in right field on Opening Day, then he needs to. Anything less will not fly with a tortured fan base.