Shapiro: Springer 'perfect fit' for Blue Jays

January 27th, 2021

TORONTO -- Everything is going according to plan for the Blue Jays.

The club’s six-year deal with star outfielder George Springer for a club-record $150 million is the fireworks show, bursting and glittering and demanding everyone’s eye, but Toronto has been on a path to this moment for years now. Through the stages of demolition, a new foundation being laid and reconstruction, the Blue Jays were moving themselves in this direction, even if it's been difficult to see at times.

Sometimes the stars align, too. Last offseason, lefty Hyun Jin Ryu was available and Toronto landed him on a four-year, $80 million deal that looks great one year in. That move came slightly ahead of the club's expected schedule, but as its payroll dropped and the young core became competitive, this current offseason represented the ideal pivot point it's been waiting for. There, at the perfect time, sat Springer.

The commitment is significant, but the Blue Jays are confident it’s a “perfect fit,” as club president and CEO Mark Shapiro said. Springer’s position wasn’t a glaring “need” by the traditional definition, but at this point in their trajectory, Toronto was ready to push for his talent alone. The rest can sort itself out.

“It’s not just centre field, it’s also George Springer that is so attractive to us,” general manager Ross Atkins said Wednesday. “We had a lot of different ways that we could have made our team better, because of some of the versatility in our infield and because of Randal Grichuk and how well he fared in centre last year, but our attraction to George Springer, it was several years ago when it began. Any executive in baseball that’s watched George play for some time would love to talk about how he would fit on your team.”

Going back to 2018, Shapiro and Atkins would often speak of timing. Adding an elite player to bring the team from 77 to 82 wins, for example, had value, but adding that player at a time when they would push the club from 85 to 90 wins is the sweet spot.

The Blue Jays are coming off a 32-28 record in the shortened 2020 season, and while it’s difficult to extrapolate much from that record, they’re clearly ready to move from a developing team to a competing team. Springer’s addition will grab the headlines this offseason, and rightfully so, but the collective development of Toronto’s young core should be worth a handful of wins, itself.

In Shapiro’s eyes, this isn’t a plateau the club has reached, either. It’s an upward trajectory that can continue, even with the COVID-19 pandemic limiting the spending of some other clubs around baseball.

“With a sustainable, championship team, one that has a chance to play in the postseason and win a World Championship as it leaves Spring Training every year, there is no limit to what that can reflect from a revenue perspective,” Shapiro said. “I think that this signing is a reflection of the plan. We were going to go, and at the right time -- just like with Ryu last year -- we would continue to supplement and add to the core of young players we have.”

Springer was attracted to this, and while money talks, the centre fielder said that playing in Canada was not a factor he considered to be an issue. This is a young team that he’s seen as a competitor on the Astros, and knowing their trajectory, it’s a fine time to join the party.

“The young core is obviously very, very impressive,” Springer said. “[Bo] Bichette, [Cavan] Biggio, [Vladimir] Guerrero [Jr.] and [Lourdes] Gurriel [Jr.] The way that the front office has gotten behind their guys. The message is that they really believe in this team, and that’s obviously very important to me.”

The Blue Jays’ plan is likely to include more moves this offseason, too.

Relievers Kirby Yates and Tyler Chatwood have both signed one-year deals, while the Blue Jays recently agreed to terms on a one-year, $18 million deal with Marcus Semien (a source told but is not confirmed by the club), who is coming off a down year in 2020, but finished third in voting for the American League MVP Award in '19.

“We’ve got some flexibility, but the bulk of our heavy lifting is done,” Shapiro said. “There still are opportunities for Ross and our baseball operations group to be creative in what they do.”

Those opportunities could come on the trade market, too. By doing the majority of their work in free agency, the Blue Jays have held on to their top prospects and have the financial wiggle room to take on contracts in a trade, which is very valuable in the right situation.

Toronto doesn't need to complete every inch of this build overnight, though, and it’s important to keep the 2021 Trade Deadline in mind, where there could be different opportunities to acquire pitching, for example. The club should also have a couple of contracts coming off the books next offseason in Tanner Roark’s $12 million and Semien’s reported $18 million, so the front office shouldn’t be boxed in.

It’s taken patience, careful plotting and like anything else in baseball, a few fortunate bounces along the way, but the Blue Jays’ plan is starting to pay off.