Houston Astros outfielder George Springer could have several suitors in free agency this winter.
Certainly the most closely followed offseason storyline in Houston will be the free agency of Astros outfielder George Springer. The 31-year-old is a three-time All Star, a solid defender and a proven champion, with a World Series MVP trophy to his name. Teams in need of a big outfield bat would surely have some level of interest.
What will really complicate matters, though, will be what effect the COVID-19 pandemic has on teams’ finances. It’s no secret that teams will have lost money in 2020 due to playing a 60-game season with no fans, so it stands to reason that some potential suitors could hold off on any big free agent signings out of fear that it will take some time to recover financially.
Nonetheless, there should be some interest in Springer, as I could see at least a third of the league kicking the tires, if nothing more. But there should emerge a few serious suitors, and though there’s always the threat of the dreaded “mystery team” entering the fray, here are the five teams I think will be most likely to be in play for Springer.
Of course the Astros will be interested. Springer has been a huge part of their success over the past six years, and with Michael Brantley and Josh Reddick also hitting free agency, it stands to reason that Houston will at least make an attempt to retain one of their core stars. Bringing him back would satisfy the fans and keep this team together for another run.
But the questions will remain as to how much both sides want a reunion. Springer has kept his desires under wraps, so it’s not a certainty he even wants to return. Likewise, GM James Click’s recent comments suggest he’s almost resigned to the fact that Springer will get his payday elsewhere. Still, you can’t count out the possibility of owner Jim Crane stepping in with a blank check.
Boston Red Sox
Admittedly this isn’t perfect, as the Red Sox desperately need pitching. But they should be getting Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez back next year, neither of whom pitched at all in 2020. They’ll need to add multiple bullpen arms if they want to have a chance to contend, but that could be done without exhausting all of the team’s payroll space.
Incumbent center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is a free agent, so there’s an obvious opening, and Springer of course grew up in nearby Connecticut. The chance to return home would have to be appealing to him, and if he’s interested, the Red Sox would have to at least have some degree of interest. It may largely depend on how new boss Chaim Bloom wants to operate.
New York Mets
With Steve Cohen soon to take ownership from the Wilpons, will the Mets finally spend like the big market team they are? This team needs pitching help more than it needs a big bat, but the Yoenis Cespedes contract is off the books, as are the salaries of Rick Porcello and Justin Wilson. If the new ownership wants to start out with a splash, they should have some money to throw around.
The addition of Springer would be just the kind of big move they’d be looking for to energize the fan base. A couple of mid-rotation additions and a couple of bullpen arms could be all they need on the pitching side with Noah Syndergaard presumably returning at some point in 2021 and Jacob deGrom and Edwin Diaz being two of the best at their craft. Don’t sleep on the Mets to open up their fresh new checkbook for Springer.
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The Braves came agonizingly close to a pennant this season, so you know they’ll be hungry to get over that hump. Marcell Ozuna, who had a fantastic year at the plate, is a free agent and is not an elite defender. Atlanta only has two players – Freddie Freeman and Will Smith – currently set to make $10 million or more in 2021.
Nick Markakis is also a free agent, and Ender Inciarte had an awful season. Ronald Acuna is fantastic and Adam Duvall is solid, but there’s a clear place on this team for Springer, and they have the payroll space to make it work. It makes too much sense for them to not be in the mix, and Springer might be happy to join a team that looks to be a contender for several years.
St. Louis Cardinals
There are a number of teams that could theoretically enter the Springer sweepstakes, but the Cardinals may be the team that needs him the most. They got precious little production from their outfielders in 2020 and scored the fewest runs of the four contending teams in the NL Central. Pairing Springer with Paul Goldschmidt would be a nice boost to that lineup.
From a money standpoint, it may stretch things for the Cardinals in 2021, so their front office could decide not to get involved. But the Dexter Fowler contract is off the books after next year, and they only have three players on guaranteed contracts for 2022. If they’re willing to stretch for one year, they could definitely make it work. With a crowded division, they could feel the heat and decide it’s worth a shot.
The Cubs will have some money to spend, especially if they decline Jon Lester’s option. The Yankees could probably afford Springer, but they have bigger needs on the pitching side. The Phillies could pivot to Springer if they can’t re-sign J.T. Realmuto, and the White Sox could theoretically make a run at him to supplement their young core.