As Mike Trout has proven again and again, one player isn’t enough to change a team’s fate at the MLB level. That doesn’t mean one move can’t.
When the Toronto Blue Jays signed George Springer to a six-year, $150-million contract Tuesday night, they took a step that goes beyond what the 31-year-old brings on the field. And to be clear, that’s an awful lot. With his combination of power, patience and solid centre field defence, Springer has been one of the top-10 position players in the league over the last two seasons. He plugs this team’s biggest defensive hole, and may well be the best hitter in an already powerful lineup.
The importance of this signing goes beyond that impact, though. In December, Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said the following:
“We need to get better. I'm a hundred percent confident we will get better. That could come in the form of four very good players, it can come in the form of two elite players. But we're going to get better.”
In the weeks after those words escaped his lips, the team struck out in their pursuit of DJ LeMahieu, Francisco Lindor, Liam Hendriks and Ha-Seong Kim. The Blue Jays clearly wanted to make upgrades, but that wasn't manifesting in tangible results. There’s a difference between wanting players at your price and wanting them enough to get them. With the Blue Jays consistently losing bidding wars on the free agent and trade markets, it seemed like they weren’t willing to push their chips in enough to land the elite players they were chasing.
That notion dovetailed perfectly with the perception that this club’s front office is risk-averse and more preoccupied with payroll flexibility and years of control than fielding a team capable of competing with the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays. Add in a dash of the fanbase’s anxiety about players’ hesitancy to sign with a Canadian team — stoked by reports of the New York Mets’ geographical advantage in landing Springer — and the pressure was building. Before Tuesday, there were concerns that not only were the Blue Jays unwilling to offer enough money to get deals done, players weren’t particularly interested in taking that money.
Not only did that narrative house of cards come crashing down, it spontaneously combusted. The Blue Jays are now a team that’s spent $230 million on a pair of players over the last two offseasons. They’ve shattered their record free-agent contract by $68 million, almost doubling the deal Russell Martin received prior to the 2015 season. It was also $95 million more than any other American player has received from the Blue Jays, poking a hole in the idea that players from below the 49th parallel would be hesitant to sign in Toronto long-term.
Perhaps most importantly, this deal reframes the previous actions of this front office. Continuing to champion the virtues of payroll flexibility is far from laudable if you don’t use it. At that point, you’re essentially patting yourself on the back for putting money in ownership’s pockets. If you go out and sign the top position player on the market, then you’ve justified the sacrifices it took to create that space.
For all the credit this deal deserves, it’s worth noting the Blue Jays’ work isn’t done. This rotation still has holes and both the bench and bullpen could use reinforcements — even after the underrated acquisition of closer Kirby Yates. With Springer’s deal, Roster Resource puts the Blue Jays’ 2021 payroll at $116 million — more than $45 million short of their franchise record total in 2017. A failure to continue adding would be a significant missed opportunity. Considering the Blue Jays agreed to a three-year deal with four-time All-Star outfielder Michael Brantley less than 24 hours after the Springer news broke, it seems like this front office recognizes that.
Wherever the offseason goes from here, the Blue Jays future has been irreversibly altered. The idea that they are incapable of landing a big fish in free agency will never be credible again. The sentiment that this front office is afraid of taking a chance has been rendered nonsensical. The insecurity that American stars won’t come to Toronto can be put on ice.
It’d take a crystal ball to predict just how far Springer will push the Blue Jays towards World Series contention on the field, but just by signing in Toronto he’s already made a major impact on the franchise.
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