On a gloomy Houston Monday after watching the Texans continue a story arc of sadness and despair, it is time to turn away from that and back to thoughts about the 2020 Astros.
The $5 Million Question
George Springer and the Astros exchanged arbitration figures on Friday and they are the largest gap ($5 million) of any potential salaries exchanged by any player or team. The Astros offered $17.5 MM, while Springer (undoubtedly through his agent) asked for $22.5 MM. If there is no settlement before then, the arbitration hearings will occur between Feb. 3 and 21. Since the Astros supposedly have chosen what is called a file and trial process in the past, they supposedly will go to arbitration with both Aledmys Diaz ($2.6 vs 2.0 MM) and Springer rather than reach a settlement. Matt Swartz, a statistician and contributor to mlbtraderumors.com, who has been doing this for a while came up with an expected arb salary of $21.4 MM for Springer, which obviously tracks a lot closer to George’s number than the teams.
The arbitration process is an all or nothing system. Both sides will present why their number is the correct one and the arbitrator will pick one. It has been suggested that the Astros lower number may be based on them knowing he will not produce as well without the electronic “assistance” for which they are being investigated. Since, the team cannot use this argument in the hearings they just could not base the number on that. The only reasonable thought here is that they will work on downgrading his performance figures with availability. During the duration of his current 2 year contract, Springer has played in about 81% of the 324 games due to injuries. If you took that $21.4 MM figure and multiplied it by 81% you would end up near the $17.5 MM figure.
What will happen? Well the Astros could decide to not apply file and trial here and work in the next 3 weeks or so to settle with Springer. Maybe they are hoping that Springer, afraid of ending up with the $17.5 MM figure will settle at a $20 MM number or so. I am sure they have already tried to extend George and I am sure that George’s agent has told him that nice as that may be, if he just holds on for another season he will get paid well in 2020 and will be offered a contract that will be higher per season and longer than anything the Astros may offer after 2020 as Gerrit Cole did. The most likely thing that will happen here is that Springer will win the arbitration hearing, the Astros will be squeezed even more in the luxury tax arena and that we will see George Springer for only one more wonderful season.
The Sword of Damocles
Are the Astros really being affected by the potential punishments hanging over the team’s collective head? It doesn’t feel like it. They were not going to be out there trying to bring in a bunch of free agents this off-season anyways and most definitely not the upper crust types, but they have signed Dustin Garneau, Martin Maldonado and Joe Smith with no drama involved. Teams have been trading with them as normal (Jake Marisnick to the Mets, Austin Pruitt from the Rays). Right now this “sword” is more a psychological one that the fans sense, not necessarily anything affecting the day-to-day workings of the team……yet.
The 4th and 5th spots
The back end of the rotation will be the focal point all through Spring Training. After Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke and Lance McCullers, the last two spots seem to be up for grabs.
In truth, we need to look at the last two spots in two different ways. First, pitchers who will be competing for a spot in Spring Training. Second, pitchers who will be more likely competing for a mid-season spot. There are some pitchers, who look really attractive, but based on how the team has handled pitching promotions previously a lot of the attractive ones need to show something at AAA before being brought up.
- The Spring Training competitors would seem to consist of the following pitchers with varying levels of MLB experience – Jose Urquidy, Brad Peacock, Austin Pruitt, Framber Valdez, Francis Martes, Rogelio Armenteros, Cy Sneed, Cionel Perez and Bryan Abreu. Considering the limitations on how many starts and innings are available in the major league camp, this set of pitchers is likely to be smaller than that during ST (barring injuries). Obviously, the Astros may pick up another pitcher along the way who may be in the mix, but this seems like the reasonable bunch to look at for the final two spots.
- The mid-season set are intriguing and could include any of those above who do not get a starting spot, but perform well either in the minors or out of the major league bullpen during the early season. Added to this list would be some of the young studs, who have not had exposure or much exposure at the highest minor league levels. This of course includes Forrest Whitley, Cristian Javier, Brandon Bielak, Tyler Ivey or even the pitcher good friend of the blog – GoStros – featured on Monday, Brett Conine. These are talented pitchers, who could earn a spot with continued high performance at the highest minor league levels.
Anyways – a few thoughts to chew on today. What do you think?