Kevin Gausman on decision to sign with Blue Jays: 'I want to go somewhere and win'

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Kevin Gausman officially signed a five-year contract with the Blue Jays on Wednesday. (Getty)
Kevin Gausman officially signed a five-year contract with the Blue Jays on Wednesday. (Getty)

TORONTO — Kevin Gausman has grown a lot since he first stepped on the mound at Rogers Centre.

Then a 22-year-old rookie, Gausman made his major-league debut against the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013 with the Baltimore Orioles. Now, he's returning as a fully fledged ace on a five-year, $110-million contract with the Blue Jays.

The years that passed brought a lot of baggage.

"I feel more confident in myself now than I ever have over my career," Gausman said during his media availability on Wednesday. "I just have a better overall feel for who I am and what I need to do to have success."

This isn't the first time the Blue Jays made a run for Gausman — who plans to wear No. 34 as a tribute to his idol, the late Roy Halladay. After failing to sign him a couple of times in the past, general manager Ross Atkins made sure to pick up the phone more than once this time around.

"The impact that pitchers like Kevin can have in an organization beyond the scope of winning is massive," Atkins said on Wednesday's call. "His experiences, first and foremost his character, his reputation (are) as strong as they come in baseball. So, all that we would ever ask is for him to be himself."

Before finding his stride as a two-pitch ace with the San Francisco Giants, Gausman spent his first five-and-a-half seasons with the Orioles. He was eventually traded to the Atlanta Braves and, after struggling in 2019, was demoted to the bullpen during his time with the Cincinnati Reds.

Embracing his identity as a four-seam, splitter guy was pivotal in turning things around. And it transformed the right-hander into a reliable ace on the winningest team in baseball last season.

"I think I'm overall just a lot smarter," Gausman said about his evolution over the years. "I just feel like I'm not trying to be somebody that I'm not. ... I think it took me a long time to realize that I'm not like everybody else. I have two really good pitches."

That two-pitch combination earned Gausman a 14-6 record and 5.4 WAR over 33 starts in 2021. The 30-year-old had a 2.81 ERA with a whopping 227 strikeouts over 192 innings, good for an All-Star nod and sixth place in the National League Cy Young race.

"(Kevin has) a remarkable track record thus far as a professional, as a teammate, as a human being," said Atkins. "And to be realizing his potential, and then some, at this point in his career just speaks to his desire to be better."

Gausman arrives on the Blue Jays just as another two-pitch ace, and this year's Cy Young winner, leaves. Left-hander Robbie Ray spoke to media on Wednesday as well, now as a member of the Seattle Mariners, after leveraging a career resurgence into his own lucrative five-year contract — which looks almost identical to Gausman's.

It may be tough to predict how either of those deals will pan out in the long term — especially with how similar these two pitchers' trajectories have been — but the Blue Jays seem to have the upper-hand. Gausman's command and pitch location have been above-average through his career, and so has his home-run prevention. Additionally, the Blue Jays will receive a compensation pick from the Mariners for Ray without having to give up one for Gausman, who had no qualifying offer attached to his name this offseason.

Still, the Blue Jays' gratitude for Ray lives on.

"I would imagine Robbie had a lot to do with (Gausman's decision to sign with Toronto)," said Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins on Wednesday's call. "Certainly from a winning perspective, the impact that he had on the organization."

While Ray was part of the Jays' heartbreaking near-miss 2021, Gausman is fresh off a playoff disappointment of his own. Gausman's Giants won 107 regular-season games, but exited the postseason in the first round after a heartbreaking five-game loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS.

"One of the biggest factors for me at this point in my career is I want to go somewhere and win," Gausman said about the decision to leave the Giants for the Blue Jays. "I want to win a championship. That's really my goal. I was on the best team in baseball last year. We had the best winning season in franchise history, but didn't get the job done. That kind of left a bad taste in my mouth and, you know, I'm hungry for that."

That sentiment was echoed by reliever Yimi Garcia, whom the Blue Jays also officially signed on Wednesday.

"I decided to join Toronto because it's a tremendous team with a chance to win it all this year," Garcia said via a press release.

For Gausman, a mutual desire to win was just the starting point of his choice to sign with Toronto. A husband and father of two, Gausman put a lot of value in being in a welcoming city and a "family-first" organization.

"It (seems) like they did everything they could to make sure that the families were happy," Gausman said. "In return to that, the players are happy. ... There's a great connection and communication and it just seemed like they're going to do everything they can to make sure it's a first-class experience for everyone."

Another strong selling point was the Blue Jays' exciting young core.

The team has taken pride in its clubhouse culture and rapport between veterans and young players. Gausman, who developed close relationships with Giants youngsters such as Logan Webb, is looking forward to building relationships with guys such as Alek Manoah and Nate Pearson through the grind of a long MLB season.

"One of the most important things you can have on a team is camaraderie," said Gausman. "The more people that you have in your corner, feeling like they're pulling toward the same ultimate goal, which is winning games and winning the championship, the better prepared you're going to be to have success.

"And then, you know, it just makes it a lot easier for when you're going through the tough times when you have four guys in there that have your back."

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