George Springer Shocker
It's a move that makes little sense in this modern day baseball era of contracts, control and service time trumping all. And it's one that makes even less cents.
The Tampa Bay Rays would never do it. And neither would those Billy Bean Moneyball Oakland As.
Who do the Houston Astros think they are? A legitimate big market club that plays in the fourth largest city in America?
That's exactly what these Astros of Jim Crane and Jeff Luhnow are acting like, suddenly calling up prized prospect George Springer the day after tax day. That means Springer will be a Super Two player eligible for arbitration one full year earlier than he would have been if the team simply waited until early June.
Which is what almost everyone in baseball assumed the going nowhere Astros would do.
Instead, the wait for Springer is over and there's actual legitimate buzz around the Houston Astros that's pushed the Houston Rockets' impending playoff run and the endless debate about who the Houston Texans need to draft No. 1 to the side — for at least a day or two.
"Must be some kind of breaking news here," Astros manager Bo Porter cracked on seeing the five times larger than usual media horde waiting in the dugout for his customary pregame interview before Springer's first game.
Ken Griffey Jr. was in his sixth Major League season at age 24. At some point, you just need to let a player loose on the big stage.
When word of Springer's impending promotion spread late Tuesday night — with Fox 26's Mark Berman breaking another significant Houston sports story, schooling yet another new Astros beat writer in the process — the plates shifted on Houston's baseball reality.
It didn't come close to changing everything on day one. Springer went 1 for 5 with a walk, a run scored and two strikeouts as the Astros lost to the Kansas City Royals 6-4 in 11 innings at Minute Maid Park Wednesday night.
And the Astros somehow spelled his first name wrong on the scoreboard in his second at-bat — the one where he got his first Major League hit, an infield single that went about five feet and showed off his speed.
"Speed shows up every day," Porter said.
Talents like Springer have only one first day though. He'll be the Astros every day right fielder now, giving the team at least one constant drawing card. "He wouldn't be here if he wasn't starting every day," Porter said.
This is a move that has Astros owner Jim Crane's influence all over it. Crane's been insisting that he needs to see progress this season at the Major League level for months. Still, no one knew how seriously to take such talk. After all, Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow stood up at this ownership group's first ever media luncheon and talked so boldly about one of the most flawed rosters in recent Major League history that one couldn't help but leave wondering if Luhnow thought he was somehow still in St. Louis.
Calling up Springer in mid April shows the talk is not so empty this season. Crane's pushing at least one prime chip to the center of the table.
"He's one player," Luhnow said. "But he's a pretty good player."
Sure, the Astros still waited till after the April 11 cut off date, delaying the time Springer can become eligible for free agency by a full season. This wasn't a complete no attention to finances move. But it's not one completely dictated by money and small market, long picture above all else thinking either.
That's significant. That's a cause for at least some additional hope.
In truth, Springer didn't come close to dominating in the small spring training sample size. That left a window to justify sending him back down to Oklahoma City for the start of this season.
The more Springer raked in Triple A — and he slide into the Astros starting lineup having hit home runs in back to back nights, part of a ridiculous .353, nine RBI minor league start — the more it became apparent that Houston could be wasting his pre prime on an insignificant stage.
This isn't some fresh-faced teenager. George Springer is a 24-year-old man. Ken Griffey Jr. was in his sixth Major League season at age 24. At some point, you just need to let a player loose on the big stage.
The Astros have reached that point with George Springer.
"It's a blessing and an honor," Springer said of the call up. "But again, it's not about me. I'm just one guy of 25."
He's a little more than that. He's already The Guy.
"We just want him to be George Springer and nothing more than that," Porter said.
Springer Day Mania
With interest around Springer greater than any of the Astros' established Major Leaguers (admittedly, a small list) even before spring training began, Luhnow did his best to quell the mania centered on the slugger's call up date.
Calling up Springer in mid April shows the talk is not so empty this season.
"I don't think the date Springer comes up is what everyone should be worried about," Luhnow told CultureMap at this year's annual media luncheon. "The important thing is that he has a real chance of being a superstar fixture in our lineup for years to come once he is called up."
Fans did obsess over the date however. The date means something. This particular date shows something about the Crane and Luhnow Astros.
The Astros are likely to sign Springer to a long-term extension (at a much higher price than the somewhat low-ball seven-year, $23 million deal the Astros offered last September) making his arbitration and free agency start dates somewhat moot in the long run, but that doesn't change the message sent with this April date.
And with it here, the Astros general manager suddenly got just as caught up in Springer Day as anyone else. Luhnow's tweeted pictures of Springer's locker and that new No. 4 white Astros jersey. He held ticket contests for fans for Springer's Wednesday night Minute Maid Park debut.
"It's exciting," Luhnow said, looking out on a sun-splashed field. "It's kind of like Opening Day all over again."
The Astros have grabbed a little buzz — sooner than the rest of the baseball world ever expected. This date matters.