What Astros arbitration means for the future of George Springer
Ahead of Friday night's arbitration deadline, the Astros reached 1-year agreements with four players: Carlos Correa ($8 million), Roberto Osuna ($10 million), Chris Devenski ($2 million), and Brad Peacock ($3.9 million) per ESPN's Jeff Passan.The biggest news came from their failure to reach an agreement with outfielder George Springer. According to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand, Springer is seeking $22.5 million, which is $10.5 million more than his salary last year and $5 million more than the $17.5 million offered by the Astros. It's the biggest gap of all of this year's arbitration cases across MLB. The parties now appear to be headed to a hearing in February to determine Springer's salary in what is his final year of team control.
The biggest arbitration case in terms of both salary and the gap between sides: George Springer vs. the Astros. He's asking for $22.5 million and Houston is offering $17.5 million, sources tell ESPN.
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) January 11, 2020
Houston also failed to reach an agreement with infielder Aledmys Diaz. The gap is not as big with Diaz ($600k difference) and more importantly, the stakes aren't as high as they are with Springer.
Springer, in a sense, should be a free agent this offseason. Back at the start of the 2014 season, though, George declined an extremely team-friendly contract. After failing to lock Springer into a multi-year deal, the Astros responded by manipulating his service time. By tethering him to the minor leagues just a few days into the season, the team was able to maintain control of his contract for an additional year. Dissatisfied by the move, Springer and his (then) representation explored filing a grievance through the MLBPA.
It's worth noting a couple things. First, this is standard practice in MLB. Second, it was a shrewd, bad-faith, punitive move by a cunning front office.
Springer and the Astros went on to achieve the sort of on-field success that helps rinse away the bitter taste of business. Both sides avoided arbitration in 2018 by agreeing to a 2-year, $24 million contract. The deal seemed to be a sign that the two parties were back on the same page.
This time around, the parties aren't close.It begs the question: will George Springer have a future with the Astros beyond 2020? It's hard to imagine the current iteration of the Astros without their fan-favorite centerfielder. From the iconic 2014 Sports Illustrated cover, to his eventual World Series MVP in 2017, Springer is a cornerstone of Houston's success. But the business doesn't much account for nostalgia, fandom, or loyalty. Houston does not have unlimited resources and already carries a top-10 payroll.
The Astros haven't won a hearing since beating catcher Jason Castro in 2016, losing five in a row. They lost to pitcher Collin McHugh in 2017 and '18, lost to pitcher Ken Giles in '18 and last year lost to pitcher Gerrit Cole and Correa.
— Brian McTaggart (@brianmctaggart) January 11, 2020
The Astros unapologetically made the best business decision for themselves in 2014. George Springer will be in a position to do the same in 2021. For the record, the Astros haven't won an arbitration hearing since 2016. Springer has a reasonable shot at getting his asking price. There's also a fair chance this is the last time the Astros pay it. Each a victim of their own success, Springer and the Astros are nearing the point at which they can no longer afford the other.