Thursday, March 20, 2014

On Springer and the Astros

Nobody really seemed too focused on the fact that Jarred Cosart retired the last 15 batters he faced last night. There were two things that seemingly the tens of Astros fans who still care were up in arms about: Carlos Correa's HBP, and the Ken Rosenthal story that the Astros offered George Springer a 7yr/$23m contract last September. That Springer/his agent declined is why Springer is all but assured of starting the season in Oklahoma City, and will be there until the Super Two cutoff has safely passed.

Quick Note: "Super Two" is when a player acquires enough service time to earn an extra year of arbitration. This can cost teams an awful lot of money. More on that later.

The 2011 Astros were the final year of the McLane/Wade Era. They went 56-106, spent over $90m in salaries, and had 13 players on the roster in their 30s. This includes Nelson Figueroa, Carlos Lee, Jason Michaels, Clint Barmes, Jeff Keppinger, Bill Hall, Brandon Lyon, and Jeff Fulchino (among a few others). 47 players suited up for the 2011 Astros. Only Jose Altuve, J.D. Martinez, Carlos Corporan, and Lucas Harrell remain in the organization. That's a 91.4% three-year attrition rate, and Martinez isn't even on the 40-Man roster.

Prior to the 2012 season then-BP employee/current Astros employee Kevin Goldstein ranked the Astros' organization 26th in terms of farm rankings. Since then, you know what has happened: Just about everybody got traded, the farm system is now either at the top or in the top five in all of baseball, and - oh yeah - the Astros are fighting to get out of their existing terrible RSN in which they haven't been paid since July 2013, and they lost 218 more games. We dubbed 2011-2013 as the Astros "Crynasty," because in those three years the Astros lost 118 games more than the Rangers (who had the best three-year record), and they lost 33 games more than the 29th place Twins. We've had the blocked bunt and the buttslide.

The Astros have a plan. And by God, they're going to stick to it, regardless of what Buster Olney, Ken Rosenthal, Derrick Goold, Scott Boras, or any fans (especially bloggers) collectively think about said plan. And the plan, in a nutshell, was to tear an aging, expensive franchise down to the nubs, and then burn those nubs. Only when they had milked every last drop of that older team would they turn things around, and it has started.

So when Rosenthal's column dropped like 3rd period French, it was a shock and a surprise. Rosenthal took shots at the Astros by way of taking shots at The System. But let's not kid ourselves, The System rewards teams, not players. Regard what MLB has done over the past 36 months: Spending caps and taxes on the draft. Spending caps and taxes on international free agents. Reconfiguring the posting system for Japanese players. Qualifying Offers. Keeping Super-Two statuses.

And it's that Super Two status that leads us to where we are today, and it leads us back to The Plan. The Plan includes not spending on overpriced free agents that won't help the team in the long run. This is why the Astros were allegedly in on Shin-Soo Choo, Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, but weren't willing to commit the money it ultimately cost to actually sign them. It's certainly why the Astros weren't in on Robinson Cano, Bronson Arroyo, Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Jacoby Ellsbury, Matt Garza, Phil Hughes, Ricky Nolasco, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz, Kendrys Morales, name a free agent that cost more than $10m per year. The last three were particularly unpalatable because the Astros would have to give up the comp pick they received from the Orioles in the Bud Norris trade. But none of the above players were signed because the Astros have prospects coming down the pike that - while they may not be better - they're certainly cheaper.

Remember this from last August?

If George Springer made the Opening Day roster, his service clock would begin on April 1 and would ensure - provided he didn't get sent down for a decent period of time during the season - that Springer would receive an extra year of arbitration. Mets blog Amazin Avenue posted a great look at the true cost of a Super Two player last Spring, figuring up that a Super Two player costs a team approximately an extra $12m. That's nothing to sneeze at for a team that looks like it won't receive any television revenue from their own damn network any time soon. And let's not forget that you can bet Jon Singleton and Mike Foltynewicz are in line to enter arbitration years (and, of course, free agency) at the same time as Springer.

Still, it seems as though the issue comes from the offer the Astros made: $23m over seven years (almost $3.3m/year) seems awfully low for a player like Springer, even if it is based on potential. Keeping in mind that this offer was presumably made before the end of the season, it's worth noting that Marlon Byrd got a contract this offseason worth $16m over two years. Rafael Furcal fergoodnesssakes will get $3.5m this year from Miami.

(Not Hank) Aaron wrote earlier this morning that the Astros were essentially trying to buy a year of George Springer's service time. If he had accepted the deal, the Astros wouldn't have to worry about Springer's service time. He didn't, so the Astros are going to send him back to Triple-A until they don't have to worry about it, after all. And it's easy enough to look and see that Springer was 5x31 with one extra-base hit in Spring Training this season.

The news that Springer was getting sent back to the minors was met this morning with much hand-wringing. Matthew Pouliot wrote this for Hardball Talk last night:
Jacoby Ellsbury is about to make $21 million this year in his seventh big-league season. The Astros wanted to pay Springer barely more than that for seven seasons combined. Even though it’s $23 million guaranteed for a player who hasn’t set foot in the majors yet, it simply wasn’t a competitive offer. I might even consider it extortion.

I'm not willing to go that far. Do I want to see George Springer in Houston on April 1? Yes. But the Astros have long taken a Big-Picture-View of the organization. The Astros are planning on needing Springer more in 2019 or 2020 than they are for the first 60 games of a season in which avoiding 100 losses will result in nude dancing (at least in my house). Is it shady? Maybe. Is it "gaming the system?" Heck yeah it is, and that's what the Astros have been doing for two years now, beginning with the 2012 draft that produced Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, and Rio Ruiz.

The difference, though, is that it's the Astros holding Springer back because of what is assumed as the Super Two deadline. The Mets received a sentence in Rosenthal's post for doing the same thing to Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler, and now probably Noah Syndergaard for three straight years. Maybe everyone is just tired of beating up on the finances of the Mets.

Basically the only time in the last two years that anyone on a national level has taken a look at the Astros, it's to wring their hands about the Astros' payroll and process. Well, the top-to-bottom process has always been to sacrifice the present - and that includes fans - for the future. The Astros are betting that there will be more fans in 201X (fill in the blank), when we're all used to the American League, can actually watch games on television, and the team is (ideally) contending for the playoffs.

Is it fun now? Absolutely not. But if everything works out the way we've been promised - or at least the way we've rationalized the Crynasty to ourselves - maybe, just maybe, we'll look back on this six years from now and smile.


Anonymous said...

I'm really surprised that this story has received so much attention. When I first read about it, I shrugged it off. But then I wake up this morning and pretty much all the baseball sites/blogs I read are talking about it. And why? Because it's still very much common-place to degrade everything the Astros do. Par for the course. Let's get over it and move on.


Simon said...

I think the point that isn't talked about is that Springer is 24 years old and should have been called up last year. When Wil Myers was delayed he was 22. When Zack Wheeler was delayed he was 22. When Matt Harvey was delayed he was 23. Syndergaard is 21. It doens't seem right that Springer won't be a free agent until he's 31. That's the real crime.

Simon said...

As well Houston has more money than they are letting on. This isn't the Oakland A's or the Tampa Bay Rays.

Imasalmon said...

I think what most people focusing on his age don't understand is that he was 21 years old when he started his career, and turned 22 during that season. And that was just 8 games right after being signed. 3 minor league seasons (if you consider 8 games a season) before making your Major League debut is certainly not out of line. To put it another way, Springer has played in 271 minor league games, while Wil Myers played in 445. Heck, Mike Trout, who sped through the minors, played in 286 games.

Is there a particular context for him being 24 that makes it terribly egregious that they are holding him to avoid super 2 status? I'm asking honestly.

Are the Astros doing this to save money? Sure seems like it. Is that an unfavorable thing with fans, the media, and maybe Springer himself? Yup. Is the fact that he is 24, considering he has only played in two complete minor league seasons, the reason this is unfavorable? I don't see it.

Anonymous said...

Well said Imasalmon. The facts are the facts. Saying it's a crime that he's not up yet based upon age isn't realistic. Especially when looking at his draft age and Minor League games played..


Anonymous said...

Just fall in line Astros fans.. Buy into the process. Maybe in 6 years if you're still alive we might have a good team. No reason to expect our team to bring up prospects who were MLB ready last year. Especially after we were told they were going to build the team through prospects.

You know it might cost Crane more money, we wouldn't want that right? Especially after Crane spent the off season so concerned with moving his team closer to his million dollar golf course so HE doesn't have to travel. That and after losing 100+ games 3 straight seasons why would you want to watch young talented players?

Been an Astros fan for 24 years. Going to the game spending thousands of my hard earned money fan.. Screwing over players and fans isn't going to end well.. It won't take 6 years to figured that out.

Simon said...

When bringing up minor league games played both Trout and Myers were drafted out of high school while Springer played three years in college. Several of the college players from the 2011 draft are already in the majors (Rendon,Cole, Gray, Wong.)Heck the high schoolers lindor, baez, bundy, bradley are knocking on the door. The point is Springer was the best player in the PCL last year and should have been called up in September except the Astros said they had too much talent on their 40 man roster for that:) Now he's going back for no particular reason other than the Astros have no chance of winning.

Terence said...

You guys are missing the boat a little bit. If they hold him out 2-3 weeks, they delay the service time clock enough so that they get the seventh year of control. They have to hold him out ~2.5 months to get the "Super-Two" status. I have no doubt that they hold will him down long enough to get the seventh year of control. I would be very surprised if they held him down til the middle of June. They year of guaranteed control is much more important than the maybe ~$10M.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see most rational people understand that the Astros are simply a business doing things in a responsible manner based on the regulations of their industry.

The other thing I'll note is the hand-wringing last year when the Angels renewed Mike Trout for a $20K raise....Angel fans screamed that Mike was devastated and would bolt as soon as possible.....

Then he signed a $1 million dollar this year (helping the team avoid luxury taxes) and is negotiating a rich long term deal.

Moral of the story: if Springer performs he will get paid - period. Even if he'd taken the 7/23 the team would have likely re-negotiated down the road if he played well.

Anonymous said...

Quick correction. If Springer made the opening day roster and stuck, he would not be super-2 eligible.. Instead he'd be free agent eligible in 6 years and have three years of arbitration (super-2s have 4 years of arbitration). Where super-2 status comes into play is if his free agency is delayed a year (accomplished by holding down three weeks), but he's brought up before mid June. In that scenario he'd have 7 years till free agency and 4 years of arbitration. If they hold him out till past the super-2 cutoff, he'll have 7 years till free agency but but 3 years of arbitration.

MoleBoy said...

"Jacoby Ellsbury is about to make $21 million this year in his seventh big-league season. The Astros wanted to pay Springer barely more than that for seven seasons combined."

What that nimrod Pouliot fails to mention is that over his first six years Ellsbury earned less than $21m. And he had to go through years of performing for league minimum followed by the arbitration process. He was never guaranteed any of that money. The Astros were willing to guarantee Springer $23m no matter what. By failing to mention that, this idiot is either purposely misleading his readers to push his own point of view or he doesn't really understand how all of this works. Either one is really unacceptable.

Anonymous said...

The kid is going to end up making league minimum for 2 or 3 years when he gets called up before he can sign another contract. Instead of 3 million a year for 7 years. I understand he is a good minor league player but the bottom line is he hasnt proven jack at the big league level yet. He could get called up in June hit 250 for the next 2 years and never get the money he was offered. Dumb move to me

Ted said...

There is a difference between being a good team later and being a cheap team now. We can bring George up now and still be good later, they aren't mutually exclusive.

As fans, we're just being worked over repeatedly at this point. Those of us who are left, at least.

Imasalmon said...

Simon, you have not answered my question, though? Am I to ascertain that you have come around to view his age as irrelevant as I suggested?