Winning mentality, welcoming environment sold José Berríos on Blue Jays extension

Clubhouse camaraderie and the city of Toronto were big selling points for Berríos in his decision to sign an extension. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Clubhouse camaraderie and the city of Toronto were big selling points for Berríos in his decision to sign an extension. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Two months in Toronto was enough to make José Berríos feel at home.

Chemistry and camaraderie in the clubhouse, coupled with the diversity and love of baseball within the city, were pivotal factors in Berríos's decision to sign a blockbuster seven-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 27-year-old right-hander officially inked his $131-million extension on Thursday, a move that sets the team up with a top starter for the team's foreseeable competitive window.

"When I came here in 2021, the way they treated me, the skill they brought to me to be a better person, a better player and a better teammate, that shaped my mind (into signing an extension)," Berríos said in a press conference on Thursday, sitting alongside Toronto general manager Ross Atkins at Rogers Centre. "We got a great opportunity, obviously. I'm grateful and happy about the decision I made. I think all of that kind of stuff made me take the decision not to wait for the free-agency year and make that decision now. I feel really comfortable, and the group we have, I'm sure we're going to be in a good position for the next seven years."

Berríos was acquired by the Blue Jays at the 2021 trade deadline after spending his first five-and-a-half MLB years with the Minnesota Twins, joining Toronto in the midst of an eventful playoff race as the team returned to its home turf after two years away. He still had another year of team control before hitting free agency in 2022. Now, Berríos won't hit the open market until 2028 at least.

His extension is the latest lofty move by a team that has made headlines for spending big of late.

The Puerto Rico native joins Hyun-Jin Ryu and George Springer in a cornerstone-veteran group that has so far meshed well with up-and-coming Blue Jays superstars such as Vlad Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Alek Manoah and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.

"From when I was a young kid, I always dreamed to see myself in a big moment, to play in a World Series game," said Berríos. "I can tell we have the group, we have the talent. And also, we have a lot of fun out there."

The Blue Jays would like to ensure that this core sticks around long enough to fulfill Berríos's vision.

"We are committed to keeping this group together as long as we can," said Atkins. "It has been our vision from the day we got here, to have a group together that the fans come to love and know for a long time. And we want our players to feel the same way. And, as José has expressed so well how important they are to one another, it takes time sometimes. So, we are absolutely committed to doing everything we can to make sure that happens."

That doesn't mean, however, that the Toronto front office is done adding talent to this squad. Atkins has been vocal during the offseason about exploring both the free-agent and trade markets as the club attempts to get back into the postseason after just missing it in 2021.

Extending a consistent and durable pitcher seemed like the perfect place to start.

"It is obviously very powerful for the short term and the long term," said Atkins about the Berríos deal. "But we are committed to continue to add into it from within and externally."

In 12 starts with the Jays, Berríos had a 3.58 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and held opponents to a .236 average, all while striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings and allowing just 1.6 bases on balls per nine. He struggled through a couple of starts in August, but some delivery adjustments helped Berríos regain his form and finish the year as a top starter in Toronto's rotation.

Primarily a three-pitch guy, Berríos throws a curveball, sinker and four-seam fastball most of the time, while his changeup use has declined over the years. He's also become a reliable innings eater, pitching 192 frames over 32 starts in 2021 — his fourth-career 32-start season.

"The durability and reliability, I think, is second to none with José," said Atkins. "He's been as consistent as any professional athlete in the world, really."

With Cy Young winner Robbie Ray and Steven Matz hitting free agency — and no guarantee that they'll return to Toronto despite the team's interest — one can see how crucial it was for the Blue Jays to lock in Berríos as part of this rotation for the years ahead. Manoah and Ryu are set to return as key parts of the rotation next year, while young prospects such as Nate Pearson, Thomas Hatch and Anthony Kay will have the opportunity to vie for a spot as well, though their ability to become reliable big-league starters by next year is anything but certain.

The interest in an extension was mutual between the Jays and Berríos.

As a husband and a father of three, Berríos looked beyond just the winning mentality and welcoming environment within the organization before deciding to commit long-term to the city.

"(My family) appreciated everything and every second they've spent so far here in Toronto," said Berríos. "Most of the diversity I've seen out here... this city is a worldly city, it's a big one. I enjoy the way people are here. Here, we can be human. We get to go out there, feel safe, do your thing and have fun. I have three kids and my wife, so I feel really comfortable spending my next seven years here in the city."

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