The past in Toronto has been one of the greatest in Blue Jays history. Despite not earning back-to-back World Series titles or performing legendary bat flips, the Jays were able to send shockwaves through the entire league through the signing of the very best available free agent, George Springer.
“It’s an absolute honour and it’s one that I don’t take lightly,” Springer said in his first day of media availability this past week. “I understand what comes with a deal like this. I may not necessarily understand it completely, but I understand that I’m expected to go out there and play and play well. But I also understand that I think there is a little bit more to it. I’m expecting to come in and be myself and lead by example and to try to have a lot of fun.”
The deal that the 31-year-old Springer is referencing is the largest contract handed out in Blue Jays history. Tipping the scales at six years and $150 million, the centerfielder will be under contract with Toronto through the 2025-26 MLB season.
“I’m excited to really embrace the opportunity that has presented itself,” he said of what drew him to the Blue Jays organization. “Obviously the young talent that is here and the way that Ross (Atkins) and Mark (Shapiro) really stood by their players and believed in their players and the way that they believe in the organization. It was something special to me and something that I will probably never personally ever forget. The way that they express their gratitude for all their players and their expressive desire to bring a championship back to a country was a really big factor.”
According to Atkins, the Blue Jays GM did all he could to ensure the team did end up with the former World Series MVP.
“He was the No. 1 target for us since the start of the offseason, and we are happy he was attracted to the Toronto Blue Jays as well,” Atkins shared. “We are confident that he is going to make this city and this country and this team very proud. Not just with his ability to hit the ball over the fence and run them down in centre field, but how he goes about himself and how he treats people. I am very confident that this city and this country is going to love him.”
Having previously played for the Houston Astros, Springer hasn’t had the opportunity to play for the only MLB team within one country. But he has taken notice of the passion of Jays fans.
“I’m excited about it,” Springer said. “There is a nation behind one team. It’s our job as players to go out and give the fans what they deserve. That’s playing hard every day and fighting until the absolute end. It’s is something special. I’ve seen the highlights of when the Blue Jays fans come down to Seattle. It basically looks like a Blue Jays home game. It’s exciting and it’s a pretty surreal feeling; it’s an opportunity that I embrace and I’m excited about it.”
With Canadians regularly flocking south to Seattle, Minnesota and New York for weekend road series’ in past years, the passionate fans will have a new leadoff man to get used to both at home and on the road.
“It was such a good feeling to see that smile on his face and that beautiful shade of blue representing a nation,” Atkins said of the moment Springer put his new Blue Jays cap onto his head for the first time. “It was such a good feeling, especially with the exuberance that he plays the game with and how much he embraces the game of baseball. What he means to the game, not just the Blue Jays. It was a very proud day for the Blue Jays.”
Living up to a monster contract is always a daunting task, but according to Springer, he is surrounded by talented, youthful teammates and a strong front office group, which he claims will help make the transition much easier.
“Both Ross and Mark have done a really good job at saying how much they believe in this group and expect them to do great things,” he said. “When you hear that, and it got repeated over and over and over again, it becomes that you understand how much they care for their players and how much they really are in their corner. I want to make sure that at the end of the day, whenever the end is, I can make sure that Ross and Mark feel and felt really good about my time here. I get it, there is some pressure, but understanding that there are a lot of people in my corner, I am in a great spot and feel really happy and I am just going to embrace it and can hopefully provide the fans a lot of fun and excitement.”
What Toronto fans are mainly interested in is playoff baseball. But with COVID-19 restrictions and travel protocol changing the overall schedule breakdown, Jays fans aren’t concerned whether the games occur in September, October or November, but the later the better.
“I love the playoffs, I think the playoffs are one of the best things ever,” he laughed. “I mean you play the game to play in the playoffs. It’s not, ‘I can’t wait to play this game in May,’ but rather it’s ‘I can’t wait to play in October’. One of the things I told Ross is this team has the ability and will play in October. There is something to be said about playing in a venue in May and something to be said about playing in a venue in October. And me being as fortunate as I was playing as many games as I have, I just kind of embrace it The playoffs are where you are supposed to go out and enjoy. You might as well go out and enjoy it because you never know if you are going to get it back.”
Truer words have not been said as of late. As an MLB franchise, Toronto has played in 63 total postseason franchise games. As an individual within the MLB, George Springer has also played exactly 63 playoff games. Within those five-plus dozen playoff games, the speedy outfielder owns a .269 batting average, a .895 on-base percentage, 19 home runs and 38 runs-batted-in in 260 total at bats.
“What kept coming up in our conversations with George was the passion for winning, which resonated with us in all the discussions we were having with him, because he was fixated on our group and their desire to win,” Atkins reflected. “How much we believe in the person, how good of a fit he was for the team. How much we have learned about his character, and what we have learned about him as a teammate, as I mentioned the exuberance he plays with and his overall passion for winning.”
Prior to signing Springer, Atkins and the Jays added Robbie Ray on a one-year, $8 million deal, Kirby Yates on a one-year, $5.5 million deal and Tyler Chatwood on a one-year, $3 million deal. Just after the Springer signing, the club officially announced Marcus Semien would also be joining the crew on a one-year, $18 million contract. Toronto has now spent the most by any MLB team ($184.5 million) during the 2020-21 free agency season.
Now joining Lourdes Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez in the outfield, and Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette, Marcus Semien and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. in the infield, the youthful Blue Jays will be a serious threat within the American League East in 2021.
“Everybody there is ego-less,” Springer said of what he’s learned of his new teammates. “And when you put it that way and when you’re in a locker room and around guys that are having success but you’re all pulling in the same direction it really, really has a big impact on me. It’s on me to come into the locker room and really respect their place and what has already been instilled and created. Even though it’s on me to earn that respect. I’m not going to come in there and change the way they go about things. I’m being brought in to their locker room and it’s my job to earn their respect and my job to earn the trust of the locker room and fully understanding that I can have an influence and hopefully have some fun and do what I’ve always done.”
Although the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan swap of 2018 may have been the biggest ‘trade’ to come from within all of Toronto professional sporting teams, the Springer contract handed out by the Blue Jays certainly supersedes any deal within the history that sporting market.
If the positive impact on the return from the Raptors’ blockbuster serves any purpose, it’s the reminder that taking a shot at a star can bring many years of excitement to the fold.
Dubbed ‘fun guy’ following conversations had at his introductory press conference, Kawhi Leonard went on to become a Toronto sports legend in bringing home the country’s first Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA champion. Interestingly, Springer’s introductory evaluation of himself may pull at the heartstrings of the Toronto sports faithful.
“I’m a guy that likes to have fun and that enjoys the game,” he said. “And that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to do here with the Blue Jays.”