Practically every Astros fan knew this day would happen, but it became official this week when All-Star outfielder George Springer signed a free agent deal with the Toronto Blue Jays, making the void in the Houston outfield pronounced with just a few weeks before spring training is scheduled to start.
Springer: Flying north of the border
(c) Associated Press
Springer agreed to a six-year, $150 million deal to play for the Jays. The 31-year-old flychaser, a first-round choice of the Astros and Ed Wade in 2011, played seven seasons with the Astros, batting .270 with 174 homers and an .852 OPS. A three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger winner, the Connecticut native thrilled fans with his all-out defense and infectious enthusiasm.
While many stars wilt in the glare of the postseason, Springer excelled - batting .269 with 19 homers (an .895 OPS) in 63 games. He also won the 2017 World Series MVP Award in defeating the Dodgers.
Earlier, it was reported that fellow Astro Michael Brantley had also signed with the Blue Jays, however word from his representatives claims no deal has been worked out although the Jays are one of the teams pursuing the 33-year-old outfielder. The four-time All-Star hit .309 with 27 homers (an .867 OPS) during 1-1/2 seasons in Houston after spending his first ten years with Cleveland.
UPDATE: Unconfirmed reports now say Brantley has agreed to stay in Houston on a two-year, $32 million contract pending a physical
Honestly, anything that makes life harder for the Yankess and Red Sox is not a bad thing. The AL East could turn into a four-way donnybrook between the young Jays, the frugal Rays, the big-spending Yankees and the egotistical BoSox. Only Baltimore would seem to have no chance in that division.
And what do the Astros get by letting go of their top outfielder? Virtually nothing. Houston will get a compensatory draft pick for losing Springer, reported to be a fourth-round choice in 2021.
This ought to be a lesson for the Astros' front office when they consider what to do with shortstop Carlos Correa, next year's big free agent. It's hoped the Astros sign their former first overall pick to a multi-year extension or trade him in a big package that nets some future stars. Letting him walk for nothing as they did with Springer seems completely inexplicable to a fan base watching their 2017-19 AL Champs getting slowly dismantled.
Is James Click here to "manage Houston's decline" or is he trying to rebuild a winner? While it's not totally fair due to a pandemic and a cheating scandal, the Astros haven't made a significant upgrade since trading for Zack Greinke at the 2019 deadline. That seems like a long time ago. Signing backup catchers and middle relievers won't fill that void.
Are the Astros the team that went 29-31 last year and seemed uninspired half the time or the one who came one win away from the World Series in the playoffs? Probably neither but they are drifting further from the winners circle seemingly with every month.
In other news, the baseball world lost another Hall of Famer when former Astros hurler Don Sutton passed away this week at age 75 from cancer. Sutton debuted with the Dodgers in 1966 at age 21 and was the starting pitcher in the first game played on artificial turf. After 15 seasons where he won 230 games, the righthander signed a free agent deal with the Astros for the 1981 season. He went 24-17 in two seasons before being traded to Milwaukee towards the end of the 1982 campaign for outfielder Kevin Bass and pitchers Frank DiPino and Mike Madden.
A four-time All-Star, Sutton continued to pitch through 1988, finishing with 324 career wins, receiving the Hall of Fame nod on the fifth ballot.
The Astros Daily extends our condolences to the Sutton household.
- Bob Hulsey