Report: Blue Jays agree to deal with George Springer, top free agent outfielder

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·MLB columnist
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Outfielder George Springer, a cornerstone player in the recent rise of the Houston Astros, has agreed to terms with the Toronto Blue Jays, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports the deal is for six years and $150 million.

His free agency was widely viewed as a derby between the Blue Jays and the New York Mets.

Blue Jays finally land coveted star

With a solid young core of players that leads them to believe they can soon contend at the top of the American League East, the Blue Jays have vied for much of the available talent this winter. When the Mets acquired shortstop Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians earlier this month, the Blue Jays’ offer was just short. They were competitive in the bidding for closer Liam Hendriks, who signed with the Chicago White Sox. They did sign starting pitcher Robbie Ray earlier in the offseason and this week came to an agreement with reliever Kirby Yates, and were believed to still be in the running for catcher J.T. Realmuto. Still, they sought an impactful bat.

Springer, 31, is a three-time All-Star and Most Valuable Player of the 2017 World Series, the only championship in Astros history. The shine on that title and those who won it, including Springer, dulled when it was determined the team had illegally stolen signs.

Springer’s best offensive season was in 2019, when he played just 122 games and batted .292, hit 39 home runs and was seventh in the American League MVP voting. In 51 games in 2020, his numbers tailed off slightly. He did hit 14 home runs. He hit four more home runs in the playoffs, two in the Division Series against the Oakland A’s, when he batted .389, and two in the ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays.

A regular in center or right field, where he is smooth and athletic though not as fast as he once was, Springer primarily batted leadoff for the Astros, including during World Series runs in 2017 and 2019. He hit 136 of his 174 career home runs from the top of the order. Scouts tend to like him better as a corner outfielder in coming seasons.

SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 14: George Springer #4 of the Houston Astros rounds the bases after hitting a two run home run off Tyler Glasnow #20 of the Tampa Bay Rays during the fifth inning in Game Four of the American League Championship Series at PETCO Park on October 14, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
George Springer was the top outfielder on the market. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

A centerpiece of the Astros

One of the longer tenured Astros, Springer conducted himself as a leader. He frequently served as clubhouse spokesperson, having overcome a childhood stuttering issue to do so.

The past season was the first played by the Astros after an MLB investigation found they were guilty of in-game, technology-driven sign stealing. A.J. Hinch, their manager of five seasons, was suspended by the league and fired by Astros owner Jim Crane. General manager Jeff Luhnow also was fired. The team hired Dusty Baker, finished 29-31 and were one of two teams -- the Milwaukee Brewers were the other -- to qualify for the playoffs in spite of having a losing record. For much of the summer the Astros seemed to play with the weight of that investigation and the resulting public scorn on their shoulders.

Springer was their best player.

José Altuve, the former MVP and three-time batting champion, hit .219. Alex Bregman, top five in MVP voting the previous two seasons, hit six home runs in 42 games and was offensively mediocre. Yuli Gurriel batted .232, then .114 in the postseason. Carlos Correa had his worst offensive season.

Led in part by Springer, the Astros became a different team in October. In one 10-game postseason stretch, Springer hit .318 with four home runs and nine RBI. The Astros were eliminated by the Rays in Game 7 of the ALCS. In his two World Series appearances, Springer batted .339 with seven home runs in 14 games. In the first two innings of Game 7 of the 2017 World Series in Los Angeles, Springer doubled and scored in the first inning and hit a two-run homer in the second inning, giving the Astros a 5-0 lead. They won, 5-1.

Springer was the most attractive true outfielder in the free agent market, as Marcell Ozuna, at 30, is viewed largely as a designated hitter. Springer teammate Michael Brantley, Joc Pederson and Jackie Bradley Jr. were among the outfield alternatives.

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