The Houston Astros completed a senseless development process for a top prospect Tuesday, announcing that they will promote George Springer to the Major Leagues Wednesday. Springer, 24, was their first-round pick in 2011, and hasn’t stopped abusing minor-league pitching since. He hit 37 home runs and stole 45 bases in a season split between Double- and Triple-A in 2013. He had a very legitimate case to be recalled last September, and there was no legitimate case whatsoever for sending him to Oklahoma City to open 2014.
The Astros made two errors in judgment when it comes to Springer. Neither is glaring, neither will derail his career and neither should even cost them all that much. Still, errors they were, and they’re frustrating because they indicate a franchise in entirely the wrong state of mind.
The errors, with the more serious one first:
- They held Springer back, it’s now clear, for service-time reasons, waiting until an extra year of control was a guarantee before recalling him. That’s unnecessary, and rather cheap. Springer is exactly the kind of player (extremely athletic, with a high strikeout rate and an already polished approach) whose best seasons will be his first three or four. The Astros’ gaming of the service-time system guarantees them the rights to Springer’s age-30 season, but it’s a 50/50 proposition whether Springer is a player the team would miss all that badly if he became a free agent after age 29.
It would have made more sense, if the team insisted upon letting finances drive their decision, to keep Springer off the roster until late June, ensuring that he wouldn’t be arbitration-eligible until after the 2017 season. Springer is the kind of player who will make a killing as a star during his arbitration years, but disappoint whichever team pays the premium for his free-agent seasons. The Astros gained nothing by holding Springer back.
- They made a clumsy, nigh insulting contract-extension offer to Springer last year. Reportedly worth $23 million over seven seasons, that deal had no chance of being accepted. Springer was a player with extremely low risk factors, on the verge of beginning a career in a baseball economy that all but assures him of that amount of money, anyway.
It’s not merely that Springer was never going to accept that offer, though. It’s also that offering it, in the first place, makes for terrible P.R. It betrays the team’s ulterior motives for keeping Springer down on the farm. It makes them look cheap, and desperate to lock in long-term value even while not competing for short-term talent. There was no reason to make such an offer so soon, and in doing so, the club revealed itself as one looking so far past the 2014 season that fans ought not to even bother attending games this year.
Again, these gaffes aren’t likely to have heavy costs. There’s no grave legal consequence forthcoming, although the MLB Players Association did consider a grievance on Springer’s behalf after news of the extension offer leaked. There’s also no reason to think the extra time wasted in Triple-A will seriously set back Springer’s development. He could have handled the challenge of the Majors sooner, but he hasn’t wasted away. These mistakes, though, just lend fuel to the fire of the organization’s critics. They’re missed opportunities to pick up a half a knot of boat speed. An organization as chock-full of smart people as this one should be better able to avoid silly missteps.Next post: Power Rankings: Every Team’s Season in a Number of Words Equal to Their Games Played
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