Houston Astros outfielders George Springer and Michael Brantley are two of the more high-profile players on the Major League Baseball free agent market this offseason. Springer, 31, will likely command a long-term deal, whereas Brantley, who turns 34 in May, will likely command a short-term deal.
The two outfielders are among the premier players at their respective positions, but who’s the better value?
The Case for George Springer
Springer is in the thick of his prime and has been a walking model of consistency: an All-Star-caliber outfielder.
From 2016-19 Springer totaled 124 home runs and 334 RBIs while posting an .859 OPS and a 132 OPS+. Furthermore, he finished in the top seven percent of MLB in barrel percentage (14.1 percent) in 2019. Springer is a line-drive power hitter. He has a quick, impactful swing that generates slug and has been an indispensable part of the Astros’ offensive attack. Defensively, he’s a recurring gem.
Whether it be making plays in the gap, executing relays, or getting behind fly balls, Springer is an elite defender. Last season he posted a six DRS in center field and posted a seven DRS at the position in 2019. All the while, Springer has extensive experience starting in both center and right field.
Springer is an offensive mainstay and an outfielder commander. He’s going to be one of the faces of your franchise for the entirety of his contract. Whoever signs Springer is getting the backend of his prime. The player he has been in recent memory is the player a team is signing up for across the next half-decade.
The downside? He has appeared in no more than 140 games in a single season since 2016.
The Case for Michael Brantley
Brantley has been Steady Eddie over his entire big-league career.
Brantley is a smooth, contact hitter. He puts the ball in play at a high level, makes considerable contact, and is one of the best pure hitters in MLB. Across the last three seasons (two with the Astros and one with Cleveland) he has posted a combined .309 batting average and a .852 OPS.
It’s rare to see Brantley strikeout. For his career, the outfielder has posted a 1,425:573 hit-to-strikeout ratio. That is astonishing. Meanwhile, he’s a proven commodity in left field. Last season he posted a five DRS in left and an 11 DRS at the position in 2019.
Brantley is a worthwhile short-term investment even if his price tag reaches as high as $20 million per season. It’s difficult to find many players who are better pure hitters, and Brantley has been the same player over his entire career. One could argue that he has been playing the best baseball of his career over the last few seasons. Whoever signs Brantley is getting the remainder of his prime.
The downside? He has consistently missed time due to injury across the last six seasons. From 2016-17 he was limited to a combined 101 games due to injury and hasn’t appeared in 150-plus games since 2014.
The Verdict: Michael Brantley is the Better Value
Both of these outfielders are highly productive, reliable everyday players, but Brantley gets the edge on being the better value signing.
You know what you’re getting with George Springer and Michael Brantley, which is beneficial when you’re giving out eight-figure salaries. They each field their positions well and have produced at steady rates at the plate across their respective careers. Their likely contracts are what lean in Brantley’s favor.
If we extrapolate their careers across the length of their presumed contracts, Brantley is more likely to meet the expectations of a short-term contract than Springer is of a long-term contract. There’s more factors and hypotheticals across a five-to-six-year deal than a two-to-three-year deal.
Let’s say Brantley preferred a longer deal in terms of years: his average annual salary would likely go down because he’s roughly two and a half years older than his former outfield comrade. Also consider that Brantley got a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros coming off a season where he hit .309, posted an .832 OPS, and totaled 76 RBIs with Cleveland: how much larger can his contract demands be with two seasons that were a shred better than his 2018 campaign now under his belt? In a sport that values slug over contact, Brantley is an inevitable steal. He’s one of the best at what he does.
Springer and Brantley can each play into their paydays, but Brantley is the safer bet to do damage across the entirety of his contract.