Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) -
When it comes to George Springer, I think we're asking the wrong questions.
A lot of you are worried about his high strikeout rate.
Don't be. Even with 161 strikeouts in 2013, Springer still hit .303 across two minor league levels.
Another concern is that Houston already has a capable center fielder in Dexter Fowler (.263, 12 HR, 42 RBI, 19 SB in 2013).
Don't fret. Many scouts think Springer is better suited for right field anyway.
But there's still one question none of us can answer. In fact, only the Astros can.
When will we see George in the major leagues?
If talent was all that mattered, he'd probably be on the Opening Day roster. And there's still a chance that could happen. But MLB's collective bargaining agreement, as well as Houston's famously-low payroll, have made things a bit more complicated.
Springer, a 6-foot-3, base-stealing, home run-hitting freak of nature, has all the familiar symptoms of what we call a "Super Two."
Let me explain. Usually, players earn the minimum salary until they become arbitration-eligible. That happens after three years of major league service (a year of service is defined as being on the roster for 172 of a possible 182 days).
Of course, there is one exception. Some players that have between two and three years of service can qualify for an extra year of arbitration. But that's only if they're among the top 22 percent of second-year players in terms of service time. That number used to be 17 percent but changed after the new collective bargaining agreement was reached in 2011.
For players who bounce between Triple-A and the majors, this isn't a big deal. But for someone like Springer, who will probably be an everyday player as soon as he arrives in Houston, the service clock matters.
Right now, the minimum salary, which has gone up by two percent each of the last two seasons, is right around $500,000. If we factor in a two percent increase each year, Springer will be making around $530,000 in 2017.
But, if Springer qualifies as a Super Two, he'll be eligible for arbitration a year early (last season the cutoff for Super Twos was 121 days of major league service). So instead of earning the minimum salary, the Astros would probably have to give Springer a massive raise or even sign him to a long-term extension. For a team with a $21 million payroll, that's significant.
If Houston was ready to contend in 2014, the Astros probably wouldn't think twice about the extra year of arbitration. This exact scenario is unfolding in Cincinnati as we speak with Billy Hamilton.
The Astros, on the other hand, have no chance of competing this year and can afford to wait. But how long should they hold out?
If we use last year's Super Two cutoff as a model (remember, it was 121 days), Houston should be safe as long as they don't call Springer up before May 30th.
That's pretty sneaky, but a lot of teams do it. Just in the last few seasons, Wil Myers, Stephen Strasburg and Zack Wheeler have all been called up in June for this very reason.
Some teams wait even longer. Michael Wacha didn't join the Cardinals' rotation full-time until the middle of August.
For fantasy owners, this can be pretty frustrating.
Think of what Myers could have done if he had been with the Rays in April. Had he logged 500 at bats rather than the 335 he actually received, Myers (.293, 13 HR, 54 RBI) would have been on pace for 19 HR and close to 80 RBI. By that same token, Wacha (9.05 K per nine innings) likely would have been among the league leaders in strikeouts had he pitched the whole season.
Springer's service clock is already coming into play. Despite numbers that suggest he could make an immediate impact, Springer is owned in just 12.2 percent of ESPN fantasy leagues.
Fantasy owners want certainty and with Springer, we don't have that yet.
Usually when we say that about someone, it's because they have holes in their game. That's true on some levels with Springer, but mostly this is about Houston trying to save money.
Being fiscally responsible is one thing but if Springer is ready to contribute now, why wait? Don't fans that come to Minute Maid Park deserve to see the best players?