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Braves Potential Free Agent Target: George Springer

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Houston’s leadoff hitter for the past few years is still available via free agency, Could he potentially bring his talents to Cobb County?

American League Championship Series Game 4: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

As the calendar switches from 2020 to 2021, that means that we’re inching closer to the start of another baseball season. That means that we should eventually start to see some free agency action — particularly from the Atlanta Braves, who still have some holes that they need to fill if they plan on bolstering their chances of winning the National League East division for the fourth year in a row.

With that being said, the rumor mill has slowed to a crawl. When that tiny little DJ LeMahieu rumor popped up on Sunday night, it was cause for celebration among Braves fans everywhere. So instead of just waiting on the news to happen, we’re gonna bring you a little bit of analysis on the big free agent signings that are still out there. Today, we’re going to talk about current free agent outfielder George Springer.

Who is he?

For the first seven years of his career, George Springer served as one of the most reliable cogs in the machine that helped power the Houston Astros from the absolute cellar of Major League Baseball to World Series champions in 2017 and (retroactively controversial) contenders ever since then. He was the leadoff hitter for the Astros from 2016 onward, and he’s been remarkably consistent as a hitter ever since then. He has a career wRC+ of 134 and a career OPS+ of 131. He compliments those numbers with a slash line of .270/.361/.491 and has knocked 174 balls clear over the fence so far in his time as a major leaguer.

His shining moment as a big leaguer so far is easily the 2017 World Series, which is when he, um, went off on the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Over 34 plate appearances in the 2017 Fall Classic, Springer finished with 11 hits — with three of those being doubles and five being dingers. This led to him racking up 11 RBIs, eight runs scored, and one World Series MVP trophy to place on his mantle. It was one of the most impressive efforts that you’ll ever see in a World Series, and it’s definitely something that his agent will surely be adding onto his regular season exploits in order to gain his client an even bigger payday at some point during this offseason.

What did he do recently?

The 2019 season was a consensus career year for Springer, as he finished the season with a 156 wRC+ number, which was good for fourth overall in the American League (yet still second behind teammate Alex Bregman, who finished second in the AL with 168 wRC+). He also tallied a career-high slash line of .292/.383/.591 and racked up 39 homers along the way. Your mileage on these numbers may vary depending on how much you believe he was aided by the infamous trash can banging scheme that brought the Astros into shame once that offseason rolled around.

So needless to say, Springer (and the rest of the Astros) went into 2020 with something to prove. While Springer’s numbers went down, there wasn’t a precipitous drop to suggest that taking away the trash cans was akin to taking away the NBA All-Stars’ abilities from the Monstars from Space Jam. Springer’s .265/.359/.540 slash line over the shortened 2020 season would look right at home with most of his other slash lines. A 146 wRC+ would look even more familiar, and 14 homers over those 60 games means that he was on pace for around 38 homers over 162 games. If you take into consideration Statcast’s xBA, xSLG and xWOBA, he put up career numbers in those departments last season. So yeah, there’s really no question about whether or not Springer is legit. He’s going to give you valuable production, no matter which ballpark you put him in.

Why should the Braves sign him?

Unless you just skipped the past few paragraphs, it’s pretty obvious why the Braves should sign him: He is a very good hitter and would fit right in with the rest of the sluggers that the Braves currently have. He’s got successful World Series experience, he’s got fantastic numbers, he can hold his own with his glove in the outfield, and he seems like a stand-up dude that any clubhouse would be happy to welcome into the fold. On top of that, the Braves could do with some help in the outfield at the moment. As of Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections from way back in November, Atlanta’s projected outfield is Adam Duvall in left, a combination of Ender Inciarte and Cristian Pache in center, and Ronald Acuña Jr. in right. Adding Springer to that outfield would be the perfect piece to fill the Marcell Ozuna-sized hole that would be there should Atlanta’s left fielder/designated hitter from last season decide to go to another team for 2021.

Why shouldn’t the Braves sign him?

The only things close to “red flags” (from the perspective of baseball organizations in this current climate) that I can see when it comes to Springer is that he’s entering his 30s (2021 will be his age-31 season), he’s not particularly quick around the basepaths or in the outfield, and he’d be very expensive to acquire. The biggest red flag is probably his issues with durability. He’s played 162 games only once in his career (2016), and then spent the next three seasons with a Games Played log of 140, 140, and 122. So if he does get signed, the odds are pretty high that he’s gonna miss a few games here-and-there due to injury.

There’s also the issue of the cheating scandal, but I think at this point it’s water under the bridge for a lot of teams. I’m sure he’ll be asked questions about it, but I highly doubt that it’ll be a huge issue to where teams will decide to stay far away from him once we get closer to the season. Still, there’s a non-zero possibility that maybe the Braves have a “NO ASTROS, EVER” policy. That possibility is much closer to “zero” than “one hundred,” though.

Expected contract

This, above all, is probably the biggest hurdle for the Braves:

Here’s more from SNY’s Andy Martino (or if you chose not to watch the video):

As you know, the Mets have been negotiating with Springer for much of the offseason. According to league sources, the centerfielder is seeking approximately $175 million. The Mets, per sources, had been willing to offer a five-year deal for somewhat less than $150 million.

The Toronto Blue Jays, meanwhile, recently made an opening offer to Springer in the $115 million range, per sources briefed on those talks (Springer’s agent, Casey Close, did not respond to a request for comment).

So if I had to guess, he’ll probably end up signing for something around $130-150 million. It probably won’t come from the Mets since their extremely-wealthy new owner has expressed doubts when it comes to his willingness to spend past the luxury tax threshold during his first season as owner. They’re planning on giving contract extensions to Francisco Lindor and Michael Conforto, so Cohen may not be willing to open his checkbook for Springer at the moment. With that being said, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Mets decide to spend in order to financially pry open their window of contention.

As far as the Braves are concerned, it would be really nice if they suddenly turned into a team that signs free agents to long-term deals every now and then. It’s highly unlikely that they’ll do it for Springer, but it’s fun to think about it!

League Championship - Tampa Bay Rays v Houston Astros - Game Four Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Anyways, the Braves and George Springer are a match made in heaven. He’s a consistently big bat who can hold his own in the outfield. If a miracle did happen and the Braves broke the bank to sign him, then I could see an outfield combination down the road that would include Acuña going back to left field, Inciarte/Pache in center (with Pache taking over primary starting duties at some point during the season), and George Springer in right field. As far as the lineup goes, I could see him hitting at third in the lineup behind Acuña and Freddie Freeman. I believe that Brian Snitker is smart enough to know that that 1-2 punch at the top should not be disturbed and if anything, they should be looking for someone to complete the 1-2-3 punch that they had last season with Ozuna hitting in that spot. George Springer would fit the bill.

Again, the only thing that is holding back the Braves in this situation is their willingness to hand out a nine-figure deal in free agency. I can’t see the Braves being the team to splash the cash on George Springer, but it would be fantastic if they found the money to do so. The only way that I can see it happen is if Springer’s camp decides to punt on this offseason by signing a one-year deal somewhere — then, that would be in Atlanta’s wheelhouse. Other than that, it’s very unlikely that the Braves will be the one to get Springer’s signature on a contract for the 2021 season and beyond.