The term “untouchable” is always relative, and the parameters of it depend on the organization and front office that hold said player who might be off limits in trade discussions.

Some teams hang up the phone after such a player’s name is mentioned, and that is assuming they do not answer the phone by stating the player is off the table as a salutation. Then again, other teams use the label loosely, as if to say an interested team would have to be willing to part with a massive return package just to start the conversation about that player.

It is the tag’s second form that most accurately applies to the Houston Astros’ view on George Springer, their 26-year-old right fielder who possesses promising power potential and is seen as part of the young core that has Houston garnering World Series expectations. Rumors about Springer came up during the winter meetings earlier this month, but to this point, there is no traction beyond passing inquiries as the Astros seem unlikely to part with Springer unless the haul for him is significant.

As it should be, rightfully making him one of Houston’s “untouchables.”

That does not mean the Astros will not listen, though many of the words might go in one ear and out the other if other teams are simply trying to gauge the market.

“We listen,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow told reporters at the meetings (h/t Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle). “We talk to clubs about everything. There’s nothing out of bounds.”

Of course, that is a far trek from putting a player on the trading block. That is particularly true when the player has put up back-to-back seasons with a 126 OPS+ despite injuries and still has five seasons of team control.

Luhnow is quite aware of those facts.

“It’s a tricky question to answer,” he told reporters when he was asked about untouchable assets. “Because if you have good players, other clubs are going to ask you about them and any time you get an inbound inquiry on any player, you’re going to at least look at it and talk about it with your group. I think for us, we’ve got young core players. That starts with [Dallas] Keuchel, [Jose] Altuve, [George] Springer, [Carlos] Correa.

“Those guys are part of the Astros and there’s no reason for us to move any of those types of players. They’re here, they’re under control for years, they’re good, they’ve played together, it works. I don’t think anybody in that group would be going anywhere any time soon.”

That seems to prove especially true for Keuchel and Correa, the American League’s reigning Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year winners, respectively.

Springer could be a different case, though.

The Astros certainly are not shopping him, but the 11th overall pick of the 2011 draft is attractive because of his ceiling and control. His current club understands the value that brings, and if he can garner a package of high-ceiling prospects and/or a top-shelf pitching prospect or front-line major league-ready starter, that listening the Astros are doing could turn into real talks.

There is a lot to like about Springer as a high-upside offensive player. He hit 20 home runs in 345 plate appearances as a rookie, and last season he ended up as the team’s leadoff hitter for most of the year, posting an .829 OPS from that spot—he also hit third early in the year and second in the final month.

Springer suffered a fractured wrist in early July, when he was hitting .264/.365/.457 with an .822 OPS. He returned in September for the final 27 games and hit .304/.373/.464 with an .837 OPS, five doubles and three home runs.

Springer can also play solid defense. Last season, among major league right fielders with at least 800 innings played, he was sixth with five defensive runs saved, a counting stat likely lowered because of the time Springer missed, and seventh with a 4.4 ultimate zone rating per 150 innings, according to Fangraphs.

Despite missing most of July and all of August, Springer was still almost a four-win player by both Baseball-Reference‘s and Fangraphs‘ calculations. There is significant value in that, which is why other teams have a desire to put that type of lineup-versatile player on their roster.

The Astros are right to label Springer as one of their untouchables at this point. He could be just entering his prime, and his potential when given 600-plus plate appearances is high enough to cause salivation and project some All-Star selections in his future. The Astros are also right to listen to the chatter about their budding star. If a team is willing to pay the asking price, the organization has to consider moving him.

For now, though, Springer is an Astro and a major part of the organization’s plan to go from doormat to title hopeful. With him, the Astros are better. Without him, they might improve. And that difference is enough of a reason to mark him as an “untouchable.”


All quotes, unless otherwise specified, have been acquired first-hand by Anthony Witrado. Follow Anthony on Twitter @awitrado and talk baseball here.

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