Recently, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Astros offered top prospect George Springer a seven-year, $23 million contract last September. As Matthew Pouliot explained earlier this week, it was a way for the Astros to guarantee themselves a bargain while giving Springer the playing time in the Majors he obviously wants. Springer, though, rejected the deal, preferring to keep control over his own fate.
Over the off-season, the Astros acquired Dexter Fowler to play center field, which all but guaranteed Springer would be back in the minors when the 2014 season began. The reason is obvious: without that contract in place, the Astros are being careful with how they use Springer. If he makes his debut before June and accrues any serious amount of playing time, the Astros likely lose a year of control, making Springer a free agent after the 2019 season rather than after 2020.
Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle reports that Springer’s agent Greg Genske and the MLBPA are considering filing a grievance over Springer’s playing time. Drellich writes:
Although Springer is technically not a member of the major league baseball players association — he is not on the team’s 40-man roster yet — that does not limit the union’s ability to potentially contest that the Astros did not act properly. The central issue is always whether the collective bargaining agreement was violated in any way.
Springer, 24, slashed .303/.411/.600 with 37 home runs between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Oklahoma City. He was rated the 20th-best prospect in baseball by Baseball Prospectus recently.
The Cardinals have officially signed outfielder Dexter Fowler to a five-year, $82.5 million contract. Fowler will also get a full no-trade clause.
The Cardinals gave Fowler a bigger deal than many speculated he’d get, as some reports predicted he’d get something in the $52-72 million range. His skills, however — he’s a fantastic leadoff hitter who plays a premium defensive position — definitely earned him some major dough. Fowler hit .276/.393/.447 with 13 homers, 48 RBI and 13 steals over 125 games in 2016 for the World Series champion Cubs.
For the Cardinals, this will allow Matt Carpenter to move down to the middle of the batting order and will shift Randal Grichuk to left field. It also takes a prime piece from the Cardinals’ biggest rival. For their part, earlier this offseason the Cubs signed former Cardinal center fielder Jon Jay. So that’s fun.
The Cardinals have always emphasized building from within. In the 2016-17 offseason, however, they may end up being one of the bigger free agent buyers. At least according to some informed speculation.
St. Louis is already in agreement with Dexter Fowler. But Derrick Goold and Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch write today that the Cardinals “could become more aggressive than previously believed,” with Mark Trumbo and Edwin Encarnacion as “possible pursuits.” Worth noting that separate reports alleged some interest on the part of the Cards front office in free agent third baseman Justin Turner.
The Cardinals are already losing their first round pick due to the Fowler signing, so any other top free agent won’t cost them more than the money he’s owed. And as far as money goes, the Cardinals have a great deal of it, despite being a small market team. They have a billion dollar TV deal coming online and Matt Holliday and Jaime Garcia are off the payroll now. Spending big on a free agent or three would not cripple them or anything.
Encarnacion or Trumbo would be first baseman, which wold fly in the face of the Cards’ move of Matt Carpenter to first base (and, at least as far as Encarnacion goes, would fly in the face of good defense). Getting either of them would push Carpenter back to second, displacing Kolten Wong, or over to third, displacing Jhonny Peralta. If you’re going to do that, I’d say that Turner would make more sense, but what do I know?
Either way, the Cardinals may be entering a pretty interesting phase of their offseason now. And an unfamiliar one as, quite possibly, the top free agent buyer on the market.