Last week, Ken Rosenthal reported — and others have since confirmed — that the Astros offered top prospect George Springer a seven year, $23 million contract. He turned them down, and has since been optioned to Triple-A, where he will begin the season. Presumably, had he accepted the contract offer, he may very well have been named the Astros Opening Day right fielder, as the contract would have nullified the benefits of keeping him from accruing a full year of service time in 2014, and it’s not like the Astros have a better right fielder blocking his path at the moment. However, since Springer did not accept the contract, he’ll have to wait at least a few weeks to join the Astros, and potentially a few months if they decide to try and get him past the Super Two cutoff as well.
On the one hand, it’s easy to paint this as a picture of an organization acting in bad faith, using the carrot of a big league roster spot to try and coerce a young player into signing away his future earnings potential. The MLBPA is even considering filing a grievance on Springer’s behalf — even though he isn’t a member yet, since he is not on the Astros 40 man roster — over the issue, though it would be nearly impossible for them to prove intent given that Springer only has 266 plate appearances in Triple-A; optioning out a young player with Springer’s contact rate would be pretty easily defensible on merit alone. But the perception of impropriety still exists, due to the appearance that his demotion was directly tied to his decision to reject the Astros contract offer, whether that is actually true or not.
The Springer news has brought about another round of calls for reformation of the rules in order to remove the incentives for teams to keep their best young players in the minor leagues to begin the season, and I’m with the crowd who thinks that MLB is best served by allowing teams to make roster decisions based on talent and performance rather than worrying about accrued service time. I’d rather see George Springer play in April than whoever the Astros end up rolling out there on Opening Day. But for MLB and the MLBPA to come to any sort of consensus on this in the next CBA negotiations, everyone will first have to admit that the concept of six years of team control is basically a myth.