Does Houston Have a Problem? George Springer and James Harden Gone, Deshaun Watson May Follow

Houston, we have a problem. More specifically, Houston-based franchises seem to have issues retaining some of their stars.

Within a week, Space City has lost 2018 NBA MVP James Harden and 2017 World Series MVP George Springer, while Deshaun Watson has made it abundantly clear his house in Houston could be up for sale in the coming months.

Last Wednesday, the Houston Rockets ended speculation about Harden's future after agreeing to trade the eight-time All-Star to the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster deal that also involved the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Indiana Pacers.

Just a few days later, ESPN reported there was a "growing feeling" within the Texans that Watson may have played his last game for the franchise.

On Tuesday, Springer completed the trifecta after ESPN and MLB Network reported he had agreed to a six-year, $150 million deal with the Toronto Blue Jays—the largest in the history of the Canadian franchise—bringing his seven-season spell in Houston to an end.

While there's a common theme of Houston franchises losing some of their stars, Springer's circumstances differ from Harden's and Watson's in several aspects.

The most obvious is that despite being one of the brightest stars on the Astros roster, Springer wasn't the face of the franchise in the same way Harden and Watson were and are for the Rockets and the Texans.

Houston Astros outfielder George Springer
George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros celebrates scoring on a Jose Altuve #27 RBI double during the fifth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game Six of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 16, 2020 in San Diego, California. Springer joined the Toronto Blue Jays as free agent on Tuesday. Ezra Shaw/Getty

Even more importantly, as a free agent heading into the current offseason, Springer's departure from Houston lacked all the drama that surrounded Harden's exit from the Rockets.

In November, Harden opted not to become the first player in NBA history to earn $50 million a year, turning down the Rockets' offer to sign the maximum allowable extension that would have paid him $103 million over two years.

He subsequently held out of the beginning of training camp and made clear to the team that he wanted to be traded, before lamenting that the Rockets were nowhere near good enough "chemistry, talent-wise, just everything" a day before being traded.

Albeit for different reasons, if Watson and the Texans do part ways, there will be no shortage of drama either.

Earlier this month, the ESPN and NFL Network both reported Watson was "extremely unhappy" after feeling the franchise did not consult him over the hiring of new general manager Nick Caserio.

Additionally, as per Sports Illustrated, Watson was disgruntled with the Texans for overlooking his suggestion to interview Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy for their head coaching vacancy.

While the Texans have since interviewed Bieniemy, their relationship with Watson appears to have deteriorated beyond breaking point. Within a week, the discussion has moved from whether the quarterback could force his way out of Houston to actively dissecting potential landing spots.

The other major difference between Springer and Harden and Watson is what the trio have achieved with their respective franchises. From a statistical standpoint, all three players have excelled.

Springer hit .265 with 32 RBIs in 51 regular-season games this season and had a career-best strikeout rate of 17.1 percent.

A three-time All-Star, the outfielder led the Astros in home runs during the regular season with 14 and hit four more in the postseason as Houston lost to the Tampa Bay Rays in seven games in the American League Championship Series.

The 31-year-old leaves Houston after hitting .270 with 174 home runs and 458 RBIs in 795 games over seasons during which he has developed into one of the best hitters in baseball.

He ranks second in home runs, third in RBIs, and fourth in hits with 136, 352 and 665 respectively since making his MLB debut in 2014. His 19 career homers are tied for fourth all-time in MLB history.

Watson, meanwhile, threw for a league-high 4,823 yards this season and his 112.4 passer rating was second only to that of MVP favorite Aaron Rodgers.

He recorded league-best figures in both yards per attempt and yards per completion—8.9 and 12.6 respectively—and his 33 passing touchdowns were the seventh joint-highest tally in the NFL.

According to Pro Football Focus, Watson's 5,267 yards this season accounted for 83.5 percent of the Texans' offensive production, the highest percentage of its kind in the NFL.

Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson #4 of the Houston Texans in action against the Tennessee Titans during a game at NRG Stadium on January 3 in Houston, Texas. Carmen Mandato/Getty

Last year, meanwhile, Harden led the NBA in scoring for the third consecutive season and was an All-Star selection for the eighth straight season since being traded to the Rockets in 2012.

Of the trio, however, only Springer has brought a title to Houston, one that has since been tarnished by a sign-stealing scandal that has engulfed the Astros and damaged their reputation over the last two years.

Springer was named MVP of the 2017 World Series after going 11 for 29 with seven RBIs as Houston's leadoff hitter, with the Astros defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in seven games to clinch the Fall Classic.

In contrast, while the Rockets made the playoffs each year since trading for Harden, they never reached the NBA Finals, losing twice in the Western Conference Finals and three times in the Conference Semifinals, with the most recent defeat at that stage coming against the Lakers in September.

Watson has faced a similar predicament, as the Texans have reached the postseason twice in his four seasons in the NFL but have never made it past the Divisional Round.