On Tuesday, the Toronto Blue Jays made a massive splash in the free-agent pool. First, the club signed top closer Kirby Yates to a one-year deal worth $5.5 million, before adding the No. 1 available position player George Springer – formerly of the Houston Astros – to a franchise-record six-year, $150 million contract.
Yates, 33, put together a monster 2019 season, boasting 41 saves and a 1.19 earned runs average. In 2020, however, he was limited to just 4.1 innings of work as he underwent surgery to remove elbow bone chips. Formerly using free agent Ken Giles in the closer role, the Blue Jays now have their man, just one day after announcing the signing of fellow right-hander Tyler Chatwood.
Yates’ 41 saves led the league two seasons back, while his performance also earned him an all-star selection and many votes in the Cy Young running. Playing a total of 60.2 innings, the Lihue product struck out 101 batters, while only walking 13.
In losing Giles and Anthony Bass as expiring contracts, Toronto will now deal with the likes of AJ Cole, Ryan Borucki, Shun Yamaguchi, Rafael Dolis and Anthony Kay in relieving roles.
The uncharacteristically slow 2020-21 offseason (other than that of the New York Mets and San Diego Padres) has seen Toronto make the first move in signing left-handed starting pitcher Robbie Ray to a one-year deal following his brief showing with the club in 2020. But other than that, there hasn’t been much to report other than the fact that Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins continues to drive the narrative of Toronto being ‘aggressive’ in free agency.
“We’re just focused on winning and trying to put this organization in a better spot,” Atkins said earlier this offseason. “We spend the majority of our time on just making sure that we are in on every avenue of making our team better. One of the best ways to win championships is when you have really good players, and many of them. We do have several of them, but we are in the market for acquiring another one… Ideally we get better defensively this offseason, and ideally we get better from a pitching standpoint this offseason; but really, we just have to get better. And one of the ways to get better is by acquiring a very good player, or hopefully two.”
Atkins, however, did emphasize the importance of knowing the players on his team and what they bring to the fold, before looking to add further talent by way of free agency.
“Winning championships starts with guys like Bo and Vladdy, Teoscar and Cavan,” the Jays’ GM added. “And then just the progress of someone like Nate Pearson and the acquisition of Hyun-jin Ryu; we need to add to that. I think other teams realize that we are in that market. Certainly, the players’ representation realizes that and by now players have recognized that. We are confident in our plan, and our plan has been communicated from many years ago. The start of that free agency and spending became a bit more aggressive last year with some of the acquisitions that we made, and this will be a second time that we take a big step forward.”
In landing the 31-year-old Springer, the Jays’ centerfield position will be occupied by the former two-time silver slugger for years to come. The 11th overall selection in the 2011 MLB Draft owns a career .270 batting average, 174 home runs and 458 runs batted in. He is a three-time all-star, and World Series champion and MVP (2017).
After finishing as a runner-up on fellow free agents Francisco Lindor and DJ LeMahieu, Springer remained the team’s top priority, as Atkins and Co. did not back down in what became a two-team bidding war with the Mets.
Springer’s recent work includes some incredible statistics as well as the likes of some great company:
- Since the 2019 season, Springer is placed ninth in ‘wins above replacement’ amongst all position players.
- Despite being over 30 years old, his 2020 ‘sprint speed’ has increased over the past three seasons.
- Springer’s slugging percentage is .576 over the past two seasons, which places him sixth in the MLB, ahead of Freddie Freeman and Alex Bregman.
- Last season, Springer’s .63 BB/K rate exactly mirrored both Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
- Over the past two seasons, only four players have a ‘weighted runs created plus’ of 145 or more. Springer joins Trout, Anthony Rendon and Nelson Cruz in that category.
Now set with its leadoff man for years to come, Toronto will boast a deadly top of the order with Springer, Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero, Teoscar Hernandez and Cavan Biggio falling in behind. With host city uncertainty surrounding the Jays, the biggest issue for the team at this moment is figuring out if its home games will be played north of the 49th parallel or back in Buffalo.
With Springer in check, and fellow free agent pitchers Trevor Bauer, Masahiro Tanaka and James Paxton remaining available, the work very well may not yet be done for Atkins and the Blue Jays. Toronto’s 2021 regular season is set to begin on April 1 on the road against the New York Yankees. Leading off will be centerfielder George Springer.