TORONTO – When the MLB off-season started, the top prognosticators were generally in agreement on the value of George Springer. At that point, a five-year deal with an average annual value of $23-25 million seemed like a reasonable estimate for the 31-year-old:
MLB Trade Rumors – five years, $125 million
Jim Bowden of the Athletic – five years, $119 million
Craig Edwards of FanGraphs – five years, $115 million
In essence, these predictions pegged Springer at or slightly above Josh Donaldson’s $23 million AAV while adding on an extra year. In the two months since, the top of the free agent market has hardly moved at all, but even in the absence of other contracts there’s enough new information to re-evaluate those predictions.
To begin, let’s take stock of what we’ve learned since free agency opened:
• The Mets are a serious suitor for Springer, who grew up in nearby Connecticut. With new owner Steve Cohen now in possession of the team and GM Jared Porter in place as GM, they seem positioned to spend big. That said, they have competition in the Blue Jays, who are openly pursuing the top free agents and trade candidates available. Elsewhere, the White Sox appear to be out, but until talks reach their final stages it would be premature to assume this is a two-team race.
• The bidding for Springer is now well over $100 million, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network, who notes that no team has yet come close to the outfielder’s asking price.
• Citing two league sources, Andy Martino of SNY reported last week that Springer was asking for ‘well over’ $150 million.
Now, let’s add to that some further context by taking a closer look at last year’s top free agent position player, another 2011 first-round pick in Anthony Rendon. Rendon hit free agency at age 29, compared to the 31-year-old Springer, and that's a potentially significant difference, especially when it comes to duration of contract. But as far as impact is concerned, the two aren't so far apart. Consider these numbers:
Rendon in Washington
Career numbers: 29.1 WAR, 127 OPS+
Final two years before free agency: .960 OPS, 147 OPS+, 5.9 WAR per 650 PA
Springer in Houston
Career: 27.5 WAR, 131 OPS+
Final two years before free agency: .953 OPS, 147 OPS+, 7.2 WAR per 650 PA
Big picture, we’re talking about two players who produce about as much as one another. There are significant differences, most notably the age gap, but if Rendon got $35 million for seven years, would it be crazy for Springer to want $35 million for five? To be clear, that’s totally speculative, but some industry observers do believe Rendon is a better comp for Springer’s AAV than Donaldson, who turned 34 last winter. A theoretical structure of $35 million times five years would get Springer to $175 million, which is certainly ‘well over’ $150 million.
Now, Rendon had the advantage of hitting free agency before the pandemic, and circumstances have definitely changed over the last 12 months. Springer’s path to an AAV that high will undoubtedly be tougher. But a closer examination of Rendon suggests an AAV around $30 million can’t be ruled for Springer.
Of course that’s all academic unless a team like the Mets or Blue Jays agrees. So, will they? That’s not a question club executives of any team would ever answer publicly, of course, but in recent months the Blue Jays have given some in the industry the impression they’re prepared to go to at least $125 million for Springer. A $125-million deal would be the largest free agent contract in franchise history by $42.5 million and there’s a good chance that’s not even a hard limit. Yet according to Martino, the Mets “might be willing to approach $150 million” for Springer.
If so, would the Blue Jays join the Mets in a bidding war? Or move on and resume their impact talent search elsewhere? Only the Blue Jays know that answer right now, though they’ve likely established an internal ‘walkaway’ threshold for their max bids on all top free agents, Springer included.
At this point, it’s easier to see the Mets going to $150 million, which is perhaps why they’re considered favourites to sign Springer. But regardless of who lands him, the last couple of months suggest he’s well-positioned to beat those early projections.