With George Springer hitting the free-agent market, the Astros must seriously explore both internal and external replacements for the 31-year-old.
After coming one game short of making it to the World Series in 2020, the Houston Astros face a predicament with the future of their outfield. For now, starting center fielder George Springer has reportedly made it known that he might not want to come back to Houston. With the Astros possibly having to replace the 3-time All-Star, as well as fellow free-agent Michael Brantley, the outfield could look much different next year.
There are few players with the same skillset, accolades and ability to shine in big moments like Springer, but he can be replaced with statistics. It’s about matching the on-base percentage and finding someone with and similar fielding percentage. You can replace the numbers lost by adding them elsewhere in the lineup. But for the Astros, their Springer replacement could either be an internal or external solution.
As of right now, the Astros have four outfielders on their 40-man roster: Yordan Alvarez, Chas McCormick, Myles Straw and Kyle Tucker. If the organization can’t bring back Springer or Brantley, they will have to go shopping this off-season. The Astros need to replace .265/.359/.540 and a 1.000 fielding percentage. Yet, with the weird platooning the Astros are known for, we could see players like Garrett Stubbs and Aledmys Díaz make their way to the outfield next year. These projections are depending on if Springer leaves, and if the Astros re-sign Brantley.
To start off, let’s look at some internal replacements.
Some might not know much about McCormick, mainly because he flies under the radar. But McCormick made the postseason roster, and I went into detail why the Astros made this move in a previous article. McCormick was brought up despite not seeing a pitch in the majors to reside on the bench and get familiar with the major-league team.
In a split year at AA and AAA in 2019, McCormick was raking with .269/.386/.432. These aren’t MLB pitchers he was facing, so there isn’t enough work to evaluate. The interesting thing is the McCormick throws left-handed and hits right-handed, which is a rare combination. While mostly a centerfielder, McCormick had his fair share of work at both corners of thee outfield and posted a 1.000 fielding percentage.
McCormick is showing progress, but he isn’t a right away fix. Depending on what James Click sees going forward, we do not know which route they will take with the position of building a young guy or finding a vet. McCormick fits this perfectly and could be a long-term replacement at the lead off spot. His OBP exceeds Springer’s, which is what you want in the leadoff role. He fits the criteria, but it will take time to knock off the rookie nerves. It is a very hard situation to evaluate with there being no MiLB this year and a shortened MLB season.
Projected outfield: Michael Brantley, Chas McCormick, Kyle Tucker
Straw has been around for the last three years and has been a reoccurring taxi squad player. He has been optioned many times in his young career, which might lead to a situation like Tyler White and Tony Kemp. They lost their ability to optioned, so they ended up being traded. Straw doesn’t show much value at the plate with .207/.244/.256 in 33 games this year, but he’s been a reliable pinch runner and was the replacement to Derek Fisher on the base paths.
Straw, although struggles at the plate, has been a great performer in the field. As a center field replacement, Straw comes with the same 1.000 fielding percentage as Springer. Straw doesn’t have much reliability at the plate, which would be needed to replace Springer, and in this scenario Click and the front office would have to make up large numbers in different areas of the roster.
Straw meets the requirements in the field, but not at the plate. I do not think Straw would be an ideal replacement for Springer, but he is the only other internal option.
Projected outfield: Michael Brantley, Myles Straw, Kyle Tucker
Now, let’s look at some external replacements.
A 1-time Fielding Bible award-winner in 2016 would make a great fit as the everyday center fielder for the Astros. In a split season with the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies, Pillar hit .288/.336/.462, which is great progression from a player known more for his glove. With his number well above the league average, the Astros could easily bring in Pillar on a cheap, short-term deal as he begins his 30s.
Pillar had a fielding percentage of .990 across the whole outfield, which isn’t a bad number. Anything in that range is reliable. His OBP is much lower than Springer’s, so the issue might be where to place him in the lineup. With Martin Maldonado hitting ninth, perhaps the Astros move him to eighth and Pillar ninth. This move could increase the number of runners on when the lineup flips back to the top.
He produced solid numbers in 2020 and could ask for more in ’21, though he could still sign cheap which could help the Astros save money for extensions for Carlos Correa, Yordan Alvarez and others.
Projected outfield: Michael Brantley, Kevin Pillar, Kyle Tucker
Jackie Bradley Jr.
JBJ has had an interesting career. As one the best defensive center fielders in baseball, JBJ got his bat back after three years of struggles. He proved that he can do both again and could’ve been an All-Star in 2020. He hit .283/.364/.450, which are all similar to what Springer posted in 2020.
The 1-time Gold Glove winner had a fielding percentage of 1.000 in 2020 and is almost mirroring what Springer accomplished. The 60 games wasn’t a big enough sample size for me to see if JBJ is back to being an elite outfielder, but it could be enough for other organizations.
These next two offseasons will be interesting for baseball, and teams are cutting it close on money which could trigger a strike. Players like JBJ will be looking for a big check, and if the Astros offer it to him, then Brantley will not be coming back. The Astros don’t have the cash to have both of them in their outfield. I think it’s best that the Astros stick with Brantley, but we will see. It would be just cutting a smaller check for a similar player in 2020 who isn’t known for his consistency.
Projected outfield: Jake Marisnick, Jackie Bradley Jr., Kyle Tucker
This one might be a shocker to many, but the Astros could bring back on old friend for a cheap price in 2021. This move would be depending on if the New York Mets non-tender Big Fudge or not. While battling two hamstring strains in 2020, Marisnick fell to the IL twice.
In six years in Houston, Marisnick was a reliable outfielder that battled issues at the plate. But in 2019, he started to turn over a new leaf at the plate. In 16 games this season, he hit .333/.353/.606, which is promising but the small sample size makes you wonder if it’s sustainable.
He is a better, slower version of Straw, but the defensive availability is there. The issues are his bat and the leadoff spot. The Astros are hopeful for bounce back years from Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yordan Alvarez. Marisnick would be a cheep pick up and could add some depth to the outfield if he doesn’t start.
Projected outfield: Michael Brantley, Jake Marisnick, Kyle Tucker
The centerfield situation will be tricky this offseason for the Astros, but it will come down to whether they spend big or work toward building for the future. For more on the outfield predicament, Andrew Gleinser brought up a possibility of other players in his piece.