(RADIO.COM Sports) This isn't hyperbole -- outfielder George Springer is one of the greatest hitters in postseason history.
Now, given what we've learned over the past year about the Houston Astros' sign-stealing scandal, it's certainly fair to put an asterisk next to some of his postseason production, including in 2017, when he tied Reggie Jackson and Chase Utley for the most home runs in a single World Series.
Still, whatever extra assistance the former World Series MVP may have had in the past, we can be fairly certain he didn't have it in 2020. And in his age-30 season, Springer had a productive campaign, slashing .265/.359/.540 with 14 home runs and 32 RBIs in the pandemic-shortened year. Though the Astros barely snuck into the playoffs with a losing record, Springer helped them to reach the American League Championship Series for the fourth consecutive season, homering four times and driving in 10 runs in the team's 13 postseason games.
Considering he's on the wrong side of 30, it may not be wise to bet on Springer continuing to be an above-average center fielder, but to this point, there has been minimal defensive decline from him. Springer posted five defensive runs saved as a center fielder in 2020, actually grading out much better than he did at his natural position of right field, where he had minus-3 defensive runs saved in a small sample size.
If Springer signs a five or six-year deal in free agency, chances are he won't still be effective in center field by the back-half of the deal. But if he's able to play in center for a couple years, that would seemingly increase the return on investment that any suitor could be making this winter. What we saw in 2020 suggests that Springer still can provide valuable defensive flexibility as well.
Since 2014, Springer has been the 14th-most valuable offensive player in MLB, according to FanGraphs, which makes him an option worth considering for these five contenders. Let's take a look at his most likely landing spots in free agency.
Boston Red Sox
As you may have heard, the Red Sox traded Mookie Betts prior to the 2020 season, and Jackie Bradley Jr. can become a free agent this upcoming offseason.
Perhaps the Red Sox will re-sign Bradley, a former Gold Glove winner, but Springer would provide a massive offensive upgrade. It feels less-than-likely that the Red Sox would re-sign Bradley Jr. and sign Springer, but signing Springer this winter could be the first major addition for chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
The issue with the Red Sox potentially signing Springer is that while he could help give them a lineup ready to make a deep playoff run, the team still feels like it's a few starting pitchers away from being able to be a serious contender. That may make the Red Sox less inclined to spend big on Springer, which would seemingly be a win-now move.
General manager James Click lauded Springer as "one of the best players to ever wear an Astros uniform" after the season, but he also acknowledged an uncertain future in the team's relationship with him, citing lost revenue in 2020 and uncertainty about the sport's financial future.
The Astros could attempt to re-sign Springer, but it's not clear if they'll be able to retain both he and shortstop Carlos Correa, who can become a free agent after the 2021 season. Springer has had the better career to this point, but Correa is five years younger.
Additionally, the Astros have uncertainty in their starting rotation. Justin Verlander will almost certainly miss all of 2021 after having Tommy John surgery in late September, and 37-year-old Zack Greinke is entering a contract year of his own.
It wouldn't be at all surprising if the Astros attempt to keep Springer in Houston for the entirety of his career, but you get the feeling that the team may begin to retool this offseason. Springer could be a casualty of that.