The Astros going to arbitration with Springer is not welcome news for fans.
For Astros fans hoping to see George Springer stay in Houston for the rest of his career, the next few weeks will be nail-biters. Springer and the club did not reach a deal on a new contract, meaning they are headed for an arbitration hearing in February.
The team is in no danger of losing their star outfielder for 2020, but the picture beyond that is murky at best. Springer is eligible for free agency following the 2020 season unless he and the club agree to a long-term contract before then.
But the fact that they have not agreed to a deal and are about $5 million apart in their submitted numbers does not bode well. All the circumstances surrounding this lead me to make this unfortunate and difficult prediction: If Springer and the Astros end up going to the arbitration hearing, Springer’s time in Houston will end after the 2020 season.
There’s Still Time
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Just because they haven’t come to an agreement yet doesn’t mean they can’t. The two sides can still negotiate until the arbitration hearing, so they could agree to a one-year deal or even a multi-year deal before they end up in front of the panel.
But if they don’t, it will be the beginning of the end. At the hearing, the Astros will basically be arguing why Springer is not worth the $22.5 million figure his side submitted. These situations sometimes cause long-term animosity between the player and the club, and this isn’t something the franchise can afford if it wants to retain its star for the future.
But therein lies the question — does the club want to retain him? They can probably afford to without much difficulty. They currently have around $115 million in guaranteed contracts for 2021, which does not include salaries for arbitration-eligible players such as Carlos Correa, Roberto Osuna and Lance McCullers Jr. Still, they should have room for a new contract for Springer.
But Springer will be 31 during the 2021 season, so any new contract will at least go through his mid-30s. Does Jeff Luhnow really want to pay a premium for what will inevitably be some decline years? I suspect that if Springer hits free agency, some other team will happily pay more for those years than Luhnow would.
It seems like Luhnow has already made his decision and is simply trying to save a little money for 2020 by heading to arbitration, even though he’ll likely lose. He lost to Gerrit Cole last year, and then Cole left via free agency. If the club doesn’t reach a deal with Springer before the arbitration hearing, he will almost certainly follow in Cole’s footsteps and get his money elsewhere.