Without George Springer, the Blue Jays feel incomplete.
That was the case in 2021, when Springer missed time with multiple injuries but flashed his incredible talent for the 78 games he was in the lineup. His recent 10-day absence with right elbow inflammation wasn’t quite as serious, but the impact was easy to see.
The Blue Jays’ offense fell flat, going 2-5 in Springer’s absence, capped off by a series loss to the Guardians last weekend in which they were outscored 16-4. One player won’t change everything, but given the trickle-down effect of Springer’s return, it’s as close as Toronto can get.
“Way better,” interim manager John Schneider said. “On paper, it speaks for itself. His presence and his energy, then obviously his ability, he’s up at the top of the order and it makes a big difference. I’m looking forward to him being able to contribute off the bat. We’re not asking him to be a world beater, but just be himself.”
Springer, as “himself,” is an exceptional player.
The 32-year-old returns from the IL hitting .251 with a .795 OPS, but he’s capable of putting up 2021 numbers, which showed the true breadth of his talents. Last season, in limited action, Springer hit .264 with a .352 on-base percentage and a .907 OPS. He has the power to hit 40 home runs over a full, healthy season, too.
Springer’s abilities as a leadoff man are rare. Put him atop a lineup with Vladimir Guerrero Jr. following close behind, and it’s lethal.
“He sees pitches. I know his first at-bat may be different sometimes, but I’ve said it before, it’s about on-base and damage potential,” Schneider said. “Having him there to get on base for guys in the middle is key, but it’s also about his overall presence. He’s an elite player and one of the best in the league. Just having that makes your lineup that much better. We like his overall presence.”
The wrinkle in all of this, though, is how quickly Springer returns to the outfield.
Returning Monday against the Orioles, Springer led off as the DH, which you can expect to see more of on this homestand before the Blue Jays set out to New York and Boston.
“We have another handful of days to build him up a little bit in terms of outfield stuff,” Schneider said. “It will be day to day, and we’ll see how he’s responding.”
As of Sunday, Springer was throwing up to 90 feet. That’s not exactly a full-effort throw from the outfield, so this could stretch on for more than just a day or two. When Schneider was asked if playing right field would help limit Springer’s throwing, he referred to the difference between right and center as a “crapshoot,” so don’t expect to see that as a midway plan.
Regardless of Springer’s defensive timeline, the club can go with Raimel Tapia, Whit Merrifield or Jackie Bradley Jr. to fill in. Offensively, though, Springer changes this lineup entirely, adding elite talent at the top while allowing Lourdes Gurriel Jr. to return to the middle of the order, lengthening an already dangerous group.