How Toronto & Berríos became a perfect fit

November 18th, 2021

TORONTO -- When the Blue Jays’ acquired José Berríos back on July 30, they took a calculated risk on an unmeasurable metric.

Beyond Berríos’ undeniable talent and remarkable consistency, the Blue Jays’ front office believed that the values of Berríos and his family would align with the values of the organization, the city of Toronto and the country of Canada. For a player who’d spent the first decade of his career with the Twins, becoming one of Minnesota’s most beloved players, such a jarring change of scenery required a comfortable landing spot, especially if the relationship was to develop long-term.

It worked. On Thursday, Berríos stood alongside general manager Ross Atkins after signing a seven-year, $131 million contract. After just 12 starts with the Blue Jays, Berríos has gone from a short-term solution to a cornerstone of the organization.

As the 27-year-old Puerto Rican finished his opening remarks in English, he told the media that he’d like to finish his statement in Spanish. Before he could continue, Berríos choked up, looking down at his young daughter in the front row, seated alongside his wife and two young sons. He gave his daughter a nod and a smile, took a few deeps breaths and 20 seconds later, continued.

“This organization gave us more than the contract and money,” Berríos later said. “That’s part of this. That’s a blessing, too, but more than that, they gave me confidence. I feel comfortable here in this city, this clubhouse, with the front office, every staff member, coach and teammate. I can call them my brothers now. We are going to spend seven more years together. We’re going to do a lot of good things for the city.”

Atkins, seated to Berríos’ right, was beaming. If you let this front office build a starting pitcher from scratch, that pitcher would come out looking a lot like Berríos, spilling over with athleticism, durability and character. Atkins believes that Berríos has one of the best reputations in professional baseball, so part of his task as GM was to understand what made the right-hander tick and learn how to support that.

“Beyond that talent, that competitiveness and execution you see on the field, is one of the best human beings in the game,” Atkins said. “That is extremely powerful for this organization, what it means for players who will be his teammates today and in the future.”

No matter how strong a bond exists between player and team, though, extensions and signings still boil down to a pair of less romantic details: dollars and term.

The Blue Jays pushed forward on both, with the seven years tying Vernon Wells’ 2006 extension for the longest term in club history, and the $131 million total trailing only George Springer for the most ever given by the organization. Atkins actually expects this to make the Blue Jays “more agile” this offseason, because of the certainty it gives their rotation. Toronto’s young stars will only get more expensive, from Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to Bo Bichette and Teoscar Hernández, but Berríos gives the club another core piece to grow around.

The city did its part in negotiations, though. Berríos got to experience Toronto for the first time as the Blue Jays returned home to Rogers Centre after 670 days. This is now where his young family will continue to grow up together, so it’s not a decision taken lightly.

“The most impressive thing I’ve seen is the diversity we have here,” Berríos said. “This is a worldly city. It’s a big one. I enjoy the way the people are here. Here, we can be human. We can go out there and feel safe, do things and have fun. I have three kids and my wife. I feel very comfortable to spend my next seven years here.”

Berríos’ kids are sold, too, and just as eager as the rest of the fan base for another season to begin after the Blue Jays fell just short of the postseason in 2021, going 91-71. A little too eager, maybe.

“They love the city. They ask me every day, ‘Are you going to play tonight?’” Berríos said. “I say, ‘No. This is the offseason. You have to wait for next year.'”