Blue Jays ink Berríos to extension

November 18th, 2021

TORONTO -- The Blue Jays announced on Thursday they have signed right-hander José Berríos to a seven-year, $131 million extension, locking up one of the game’s most reliable young starters with an aggressive first move in their offseason.

Berríos, 27, was scheduled to become a free agent following the 2022 season, but he will now be a cornerstone of the Blue Jays’ rotation through '28. This covers the window during which the Blue Jays, now stacked with stars and young talent, hope to contend after their 91-71 record left them just short of the postseason in ’21.

“José has one of the best reputations in baseball,” said general manager Ross Atkins at a press conference on Thursday at Rogers Centre. “We can see why. We were able to spend time with him to understand some of the things that make him tick, and it’s well beyond the performance on the field. The power and finesse that you see? That doesn’t come naturally. That comes from years of work, years of preparation that he continues to improve upon.”

Toronto acquired Berríos at the Trade Deadline from the Twins, with whom he had spent his entire professional career and grown into one of the organization’s most beloved figures. The package included a pair of headline names in then-No. 2 prospect Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson (then No. 4), but Berríos represented everything the Blue Jays were looking for in starting pitchers. Even at his age, he already had six seasons of MLB experience -- a track record worth betting on.

For Berrios, the decision to commit long-term to the Blue Jays after just two months playing in the city was made easier by the confidence and comfort the organization gave him after his arrival.

“I can promise that we’re going to do a lot of good things for the city,” Berrios said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun, and you guys are going to enjoy it from the stands. It’s not only the contract and all of that stuff, it’s about how we feel here, my family and I. We’re so glad and grateful for this new opportunity.”

Berríos will now lead a rotation that features Hyun Jin Ryu and Alek Manoah. American League Cy Young Award winner Robbie Ray and fellow left-hander Steven Matz are free agents, though the Blue Jays have shown interest in bringing back both pitchers, as at least one more rotation move is expected this offseason. Former top prospect Nate Pearson could figure into that rotation picture when he returns healthy in 2022, but having Berríos as the No. 1 or No. 2 starter is a fine place to begin.

In 12 starts with the Blue Jays, Berríos posted a 3.58 ERA with 78 strikeouts over 70 1/3 innings, pitching at least six innings in each of his final seven starts. Those numbers, unsurprisingly, fall in line with Berríos’ career stats as one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball. The Bayamon, P.R., native owns a career 4.04 ERA that drops to 3.74 when you cut out a tough rookie year in ’16, and he has made 32 starts in each of the past three full MLB seasons (’18, ’19 and ’21).

Berríos’ peripheral numbers point in the same direction, too. His walk and strikeout rates have been steady throughout his career, while his fastball velocity has remained stable around the 94-mph mark. From the spin rates and movement on his pitches to the type of contact opponents are making, all of Berríos’ data suggests that he’ll continue to be exactly who he has been.

“The durability and reliability is second to none with José,” Atkins said. “He’s been as consistent as any professional athlete in the world, really. Part of it is learning more about his routines and what has gone into that. We obviously could do that from afar, but not nearly as well as we could up close. The second thing that’s arguably as important is the athleticism in his delivery and how consistent it is. The combination of those things gives us a lot of confidence.”

The timing of this deal matters, too. By locking up Berríos for the next seven seasons, the door is now open for the Blue Jays to explore shorter-term deals with available starters, along with other long-term options. There’s also a great deal of value in the added financial certainty beyond this season, especially since young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández are candidates for early extensions as well.

This falls in line with the Blue Jays' recent trend of big spending, which should continue in the coming months. It started in December 2019, when Ryu signed a four-year, $80 million deal, and it continued last offseason, when George Springer signed a six-year deal worth a club record $150 million. Berríos’ extension ties Vernon Wells’ seven-year, $126 million extension from 2006 for the longest in club history; the total value makes it the second-largest, behind only Springer.