Red Sox wisely stay out of George Springer sweepstakes

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 16: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates scoring on a Jose Altuve #27 RBI double during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Six of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 16, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 16: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates scoring on a Jose Altuve #27 RBI double during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Six of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 16, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

The cost of George Springer wasn’t worthwhile for the Red Sox

George Springer was a natural fit for the Boston Red Sox. He would have filled a position of need in center field and his bat brings plenty of pop to the top of any lineup. The three-time All-Star and former World Series MVP has the accolades on his resume to be considered among the top free-agents on the market. With the New England native looking to move closer to home and his connection to manager Alex Cora, it was assumed that Boston would be an ideal landing spot.

Instead, Springer will be taking his talents north of the border to play for a division rival. According to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman, the Toronto Blue Jays are signing Springer to a six-year, $150 million deal.

Despite all the reasons for mutual interest, the Red Sox apparently weren’t even a finalist in the bidding for Springer. It’s unclear if they were ever a serious suitor but after seeing the lucrative contract he received from Toronto, it’s easy to see why Boston dropped out of the Springer sweepstakes.

The Jays paid a premium price in a market that was expected to be suppressed by the league-wide loss of revenue during the pandemic-shortened season. Only 10 position players in baseball will earn more in 2021 than Springer’s $25 million average annual value. That list has it’s fair share of albatross contracts based on what those players currently provide but each of them earned their massive deals. All 10 players have won an MVP or finished in the top-three on the ballot with multiple top-five finishes.

Springer finished seventh on the AL MVP ballot in 2019 when he produced a career-high 6.4 WAR. The 10 highest-paid position players all have at least one season that tops that. It’s hard to make a case for Springer belonging in that elite tier based on his past performance, let alone what we can expect moving forward.

Many of baseball’s wealthiest hitters were rewarded for past production only to become liabilities clogging their team’s payroll in the late stages of their career. That’s a troubling glimpse into the future for the 31-year-old Springer.

The list of position players who signed a $100+ million deal in free-agency at the age of 31 or older is hardly encouraging.

Yoenis Cespedes: 3.0 WAR in 1st year, 5.7 WAR over 5 years
Robinson Cano: 6.3 WAR in 1st year, 24.7 WAR over 7 years (signed through 2023)
Shin-Soo Choo: 0.0 WAR in 1st year, 8.5 WAR over seven years
Josh Hamilton: 1.3 WAR in 1st year, 3.2 WAR over 5 years (released during 3rd year)
Albert Pujols: 4.8 WAR in 1st year, 14.1 WAR over 9 years (signed through 2021)
Jayson Werth: 1.3 WAR in 1st year, 9.0 WAR over 7 years
Alex Rodriguez: 6.8 WAR in 1st year, 23.1 WAR over 9 years

That lists ranges between star-caliber players who faded over the course of the contract and cautionary tales.

Cano provided the Seattle Mariners with a few All-Star seasons at the beginning of his deal but he was starting to regress when they dumped his contract on the New York Mets two years ago. He’ll sit out the entire 2021 season while serving a PED suspension and he’s still owed $24 million in each of the next two seasons after that.

A-Rod cashed in following his MVP campaign in 2007. While he never came close to his peak years, he still provided the Yankees with star-caliber production during the front half of the contract. The final five years of the deal were a complete bust though, with the Yankees releasing him mid-way through the 2016 season with about a year and half remaining on his contract.

Those are the best-case scenarios. The others were massive failures who didn’t live up to their contract for most, if not all, of its duration. Are we sure that Springer is going to be an outlier?

Part of Springer’s value stems from fielding a premium position but there are legitimate concerns about whether or not he can stick in center field as he ages. He’s an above-average defensive player now but if he slips enough to warrant moving to a corner outfield spot then he’ll be significantly overpaid even if he continues to hit.

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Toronto is an up-and-coming team loaded with young talent and plenty of payroll space. They broke into the playoff picture last season and needed a veteran star to help push them over the top. Springer is worth the risk for a team in their position and they probably had to overpay a bit to convince him to move to Canada. Their window is opening and they should be a contender during the best years of Springer’s new deal.

Boston’s window slammed shut shortly after their 2018 championship. They have a roster saddled with overpriced veterans and few young stars to build around. Red Sox fans never want to accept a rebuild but that’s exactly what this franchise needs. It doesn’t have to be a lengthy one but adding a player like Springer isn’t nearly enough to bring them back to championship glory in 2021.

The Red Sox need to focus on rebuilding their farm system and signing a free-agent who declined a qualifying offer, thereby costing them a second-round draft pick, is counter-productive to those efforts.

Splurging on Springer would have been nothing more than an attempt to appease frustrated fans by showing they are willing to spend some money. It’s enough to climb out of the basement of the AL East but not enough to turn them into a contender. That shouldn’t be the goal.

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The Red Sox have too many lingering questions with players returning from injury or terribly disappointing seasons. If we knew for certain that Sale, E-Rod, Martinez and Devers would all return to form in 2021, Springer would be a great addition to help fuel a postseason run. There’s too much uncertainty around their core players to take that risk right now. If those players don’t bounce back quickly then adding Springer wouldn’t have paid off in the short-term and they would undoubtedly end up regretting it in the long run.