Astros Offseason

What Astros arbitration means for the future of George Springer

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images, Composite by Brandon Strange

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.



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 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.

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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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