There are very few guarantees in MLB free agency. For many teams, the stars have to align themselves close to perfect to get a marquee player to entertain an offer. George Springer might be a nice fit for the Detroit Tigers, but the Tigers might not see it that way. Springer might not either.
What conditions need to exist to bring a star like George Springer to Detroit? First, Springer has to make it to the open market. While there appear to be no public rumblings the Houston Astros have an extension brewing for their star outfielder, the word could break at any point once the season is over.
The Tigers need to get serious about lighting the fuse to their off-season by getting the big illegal “Holy Crap’” fireworks from that sketchy looking tent store across the state line instead of buying sparklers and cone fountains found at the local grocery store down the road. Is Chris Ilitch ready to invest? GM Al Avila’s post-season presser didn’t exactly sound a clarion call for the Tigers looking to take the league by storm in a spending spree.
Then Springer needs to be willing to accept a change from the perennial contending Astros he’s been a main cog for his whole career. Beyond that, he’d need to take a leap of faith to join a team like the Tigers who might have a spicy farm system of talent but don’t appear right on the cusp of being very good yet on the MLB level barring a major talent influx. Springer would need to accept being the start of the influx and not the finishing piece.
How much and how long?
If all that does come together the Tigers still need to determine how big the Springer investment should be. Springer would immediately become the Tigers’ best outfielder and likely their best position player period in the short term. However, he is on the “wrong” side of 30 (31 in 2021)) and that has to be factored into the length of any offer.
Springer, prior to the downward COVID pay adjustments, was slated to make $21M in 2020. Given his age and if we can believe several owners might cry poverty from COVID-related issues, it’s hard to see Springer cashing a large raise in AAV moving forward. It might come down to which team is willing to toss in a fifth year of security with perhaps an opt-out for the player after Year-3. This is where the speculation on 5-yrs/$105M starts to take shape.
To be honest, a deal along with these parameters probably won’t scare off the Astros. They will be without Justin Verlander next season, however, and they let Gerrit Cole depart for the Yankees mega-deal the last off-season. Zack Greinke isn’t getting any younger. It might be the Astros look to invest in pitching if they are laying out any money this winter.
Is George Springer the right player?
Springer has been a productive hitter for the entirety of his big league career in the build-up to free agency. His worst season in OPS+ was a disappointing 2018 where he still posted a 114 mark. The three-time All-Star carries a career OPS+ of 131 with a high watermark of 150 in 2019. The Tigers need to bet he’s the kind of athlete who ages well into his mid-30’s. Springer is the kind of versatile talent with decent speed, defense, power, and OBP skills the Tigers are sorely lacking and should be willing to pay a premium to acquire if they’re serious about winning at any point in the first half of this decade.
The War Chest
If the Ilitch fortune isn’t in play now to be used as a weapon when it appears other teams might sit out the premium free-agent market, it would seem like an opportunity lost. The Tigers payroll is shrinking to levels not seen in Detroit for most of this century.
Despite baseball’s “hard times”…**cough** new TBS deal! **cough**…the Tigers could invest in two or possibly three free agents and still have their payroll at levels which would have made the late Mike Ilitch yawn and probably wonder who else he could add. Is his son, Chris, ready to pick up the torch from his father now that his minor league system has been replenished and the third overall pick is still on the way next summer?
The 2006 Tigers were AL Pennant winners and it was built with some excellent young talent on board like Justin Verlander, JeremyvBojderman, and Curtis Granderson. But it was the elder Ilitch’s forays into free agency bringing Pudge Rodriguez, Magglio Ordonez, Kenny Rogers, and Todd Jones to the club over three off-seasons which put some of the pillars in place for that club.
If the Tigers made a strong move on George Springer, brought back Jonathan Schoop on an affordable deal similar to ‘20, and then looked for one more big fish like DJ LaMahieu or JT Realmuto (initials are big this year, evidently), suddenly they’d have the ingredients to a competitive daily lineup with hopes they can build a pitching staff with the arms coming through the system and already on hand.
You can’t, as a fan, wave the magic wand and make these signings occur. Many things would need to work outright. But, again, certain factors are in place. The Tigers payroll is low, the family coffers are stuffed, and other teams might not spend to compete for these guys. The time to get the real-deal fireworks that light up the summer sky might just be this winter if the Tigers are willing to step to the plate.