Thursday, March 20, 2014

Astros and George Springer - Brilliant? Deplorable? Both?

What will you be doing in 7 years? The Astros hope the answer for George Springer is playing centerfield for the Houston Astros. If the Astros plan comes to fruition, they hope to be a juggernaut at that point, competing for the World Series. George Springer, the George Springer we hope we see, at least, will be a key in that goal.

Springer of course, is entering his year 24 season, after demolishing AA and AAA last year. His K rate is still very high, but that is picking nits. He looks, at least to me, to be ready. It's actually tough to make a straight faced argument that he is not at least among the best three outfield options right now, at this point. But the Astros are not a juggernaut now. We hope they are improved, but the are probably still not even mediocre, even with Springer. Simply put, Springer 7 years from now will produce more value to the Astros than Springer on Opening Day 2014.

Currently, teams have 6 years of a club control. The first three years, players do not typically make significantly more than league minimum. Arbitration kicks in the next three years, and the payday gets much higher. Its still not a free market, so the real pay day hits in year 7, in free agency. That's the system. The players have collectively negotiated away their rights to a payday early, in exchange for complete freedom later.

There is a glitch in the system, however, for the player. The clock doesn't start counting until you are called up, and if you are called up late enough, you don't get credit for that year. Its typically sometime in June, though its not an exact science. By calling up a player in June, rather than April, the team essentially gets that 7th year, further delaying the payday. Technically, that is not allowed under the CBA, but nearly every team does it. Just look at the call up date for nearly every top prospect in the majors the last couple years.

As noted last night, Ken Rosenthal reported the Astros attempted another method for locking in year 7, offering Springer a 23 million dollar, 7 year, contract, effectively buying out his arbitration years and one year of free agency. People have called this a low ball offer, even calling it insulting, but when you think about it as the Astros buying year 7, when under the rules they can take it anyway, it maybe doesn't look as bad.

Jacoby Ellsbury is a good example. He just signed a mega contract with the Yankees, but in his 6 arbitration years, he made only 20 million. This included some injury plagued disappointing seasons, but also a near MVP season in his age 27 season. Will Springer be better than Ellsbury? How sure are you? Chris Young, who has a very similar skill set to Springer, made only 18 million in his arbitration years. Springer could blow that out of the water, but are you sure?  A contract offer that early is necessarily buying risk - the risk that Springer is not as awesome as we all hope, or that he gets injured. The Astros would get a bargain, if he isn't.

In effect, the Astros tried to buy Springer out of the system. If he had accepted the deal, I have no doubt he would have been immediately called up - they had already bought year 7, they didn't need to take it. But he declined. He is betting on himself. Every Astros fans need to hope he wins that bet. But that means he is still in the system. The Astros want year 7. They were unable to buy it, so now they will take it.

Your take on this will largely depend on how you feel about the system. It seems unfair to a player like Springer. He will not be able to cash in on his talent until his age 31 season. His decline years. Of course, that didn't stop Jacoby Ellsbury, and if Springer is what we hope, it won't stop him. Maybe the Astros should take the high road, and sacrifice year 7, for the good of their player. However, the counterpoint is 2021. If everything goes according to plan, Springer will be playing centerfield for the Astros that year, and that's now guaranteed. The Astros didn't create this system, but they are using it.

As for me, I really wish Springer was starting opening day. As a fan, that's what I want to see. But I won't villify the Astros for using the system in place. Your mileage, of course, may vary.