Rumors are beginning to circulate that star Astros centerfielder George Springer does not want to stay in Houston next season and beyond.
Obvious cheating links aside, the 31-year-old who has never had a wRC+ below 118, accumulated 26.6 fWAR in seven seasons, and has shown no signs of slowing down will be the crown jewel of the offseason. Several teams with needs in center field will be in on him.
None of them will be the Indians, of course, but wouldn’t it be fun to live in a reality in which they would be?
Springer fits such an obvious need for the Tribe that in a world where we could expect them to act like any normal functioning sports organization hoping to compete they would be setting up PowerPoints and lengthy Zoom presentations on the benefits of coming to Cleveland. LeBron James, Terry Francona, and several representatives from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame would being trying to convince him to accept the team’s competitive offer and roam Progressive Field’s outfield for the next several years.
Over the last seven years, Springer has slashed a combined .270/.361/.491 for a wRC+ of 134. Since he began playing full-time in 2016, only three other outfielders have a higher fWAR: Christian Yelich (26.1), Mookie Betts (33.6), and someone named Mike Trout (37.5).
Springer is also one of the few Astros batters to not fall off a cliff this season after the team’s cheating scandal came to light. In 51 games he put up a team-leading 146 wRC+ and 14 home runs.
On the flip side, no playoff team had worse production from their outfield than the Tribe, and only the Pirates had a worst offensive outfield (47 wRC+) than the putrid group of major-leaguers the Tribe ran out there every day (53 wRC+). The Indians relied mostly on Delino DeShields as their center fielder. Despite never producing at a level that would suggest he should be on a playoff roster, he was the Tribe’s center fielder for at least a part of 33 of their 60 games. Oscar Mercado played in 21, Bradley Zimmer in six, and Greg Allen for four prior to his trip out west.
Overall — not just when playing in centerfield — those four combined managed three home runs and 10 extra-base hits in 2020.
We don’t even have to narrow it to down to centerfield, or even the outfield. As a whole, the Indians offense was a train wreck held afloat by José Ramírez and occasionally César Hernández or Franmil Reyes when they were hot. As a group they finished with the fourth worst wRC+ — ahead of only the Rockies, Pirates, and Rangers.
The Indians, like every other organization, are going to cry poor harder than ever this offseason. But unlike a lot of those teams, who are not supposed playoff contenders trying to snap a 72-year-and-counting World Series drought, the Indians are in a position to unload a lot of salary at once while also attempting to snap said streak.
If and when the Indians finally go through with trading Francisco Lindor, that’s an estimated $19.5 million off the books in 2020. Carlos Santana’s option will surely be declined, so that’s another $17.5 million. Brad Hand? We can’t be paying $10 million for a reliever, can we? Domingo Santana was DFA’d and doesn’t have a spot, so that’s another $5 million gone. Tyler Naquin? Who needs him? There are an estimated $2.1 million reasons to non-tender him instead of going to arbitration.
Point being, it’s very easy to see how the Indians can — and probably will — slash payroll this offseason. Not all the moves are necessarily bad — Carlos Santana played his way out of that option, Domingo Santana really doesn’t have a place on the roster, and Naquin is the definition of expendable with how many similar outfielders they already have.
But still, that brings the projected payroll down to a basement-dwelling $35 million. Which is shameful enough if you’re the Pirates trying to tank your way to a good team in 4-5 years, let alone the Indians with such obvious, glaring holes in their supposed window of contention.
No matter who the return is in the Lindor trade, their offense next season is going to be worse — that’s just how it works when you trade away an All-Star, even after a down year. So why wouldn’t they consider adding a new superstar in centerfield, who would probably be willing to take a shorter deal than Lindor? Please don’t email me, I do know why there is no chance in hell they do, but I want to live in a world where I can at least consider it.
At best, their goal is to be like the Rays, a team with an even lower payroll at $28.1 million, but a team that has found a way to build a truly competitive powerhouse. That’s absolutely absurd for a number of reasons, but to a point I can’t fault them for it — it’s working. They are in the World Series and they were the best team in the regular season for a reason. They have done it all with trades, good drafting, and unbelievable development. If you want to argue that they should not be able to do this with such a low payroll, that’s an issue of the system being the way it is, a system that they have effectively exploited and should be fixed. But their responsibility is not to spend money for spending money’s sake, it’s to build a winning team. They have done that. The Indians, to this point, have not.
The problem is that the Indians want to think they are the Rays. The fact that their developmental successes are so lopsided points to the opposite. The fact that they cannot start a flow of quality batters, let alone open the floodgates for them like the Rays is another. The Indians are not a complete team — they are probably closer than we imagine, but the only way to fix that in the short team is a payroll injection; a player like George Springer who can come in and instantly upgrade your worst position. Congrats to the Rays for building a team so good that they didn’t have to add an expensive free agent, but like everyone else in baseball, the Indians will need to eventually if they want to go anywhere.
This is, of course, the pipest of pipe dreams. The Indians are going to shred away every cent they can and opt to sign a cheaper alternative that will further block the development of their up-and-coming outfield prospects. Because that’s the world we live in, and that’s the team we root for.