Blue Jays land top off-season target George Springer with historic contract

Ben Nicholson-Smith joins Sportsnet Central to discuss the Toronto Blue Jays signing of George Springer and what picture it paints of the front office to the other teams in the MLB and how stacked the Blue Jays outfield has become.

TORONTO – The Toronto Blue Jays have completed a deal that promises to deepen their lineup, improve their team defence and reinforce their status as an ascending team in the American League. According to industry sources, the Blue Jays have agreed to sign free agent centre fielder George Springer, pending a physical.

As first reported by Jon Heyman of MLB Network, the deal is for six years and $150 million. The agreement with the player many considered the Blue Jays’ top off-season target was first reported by Brendon Kuhn on Twitter.

At the plate, Springer is a perennial threat to hit 35 home runs with an on-base percentage above .350. On defence, he's experienced in both right and centre field, and will likely play centre in Toronto. In the playoffs, he's been one of the most prolific sluggers of all-time with 19 home runs and a .895 OPS.

By adding him to their emerging core of young players, the Blue Jays strengthen a lineup filled with talented players just now establishing themselves as major-league difference makers. And by committing what will be the largest contract guarantee in franchise history, the team’s front office landed a top-tier free agent for the second year in a row.

For a franchise attempting to build on last year’s playoff appearance, the addition of Springer is a significant positive step. But as with most deals of this magnitude, his arrival will pose questions both short- and long-term.

Short-term, the Blue Jays will have to determine how to fit their lineup together now that they have four everyday outfielders and multiple options at designated hitter. Before Tuesday, their starting outfield consisted of Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Randal Grichuk and Teoscar Hernandez with Rowdy Tellez and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. the projected first base/DH options.

With Springer in the mix, the Blue Jays might have to get creative with playing time or consider trades. Of course there’s nothing wrong with having additional depth and injuries often take care of apparent surplus. In theory, Guerrero Jr. could also play third base, but he’ll have to earn his way back to that position by showing he can handle it. In the meantime, the Blue Jays have been showing interest in free agent infielders, suggesting Guerrero Jr.’s more likely to remain at first.

Long-term, there’s the question of how Springer will age. Now entering his age-31 season, he has consistently been an above-average hitter with a lifetime OPS of .852 and an average of 35 home runs per 162 games played. Plus, he has consistently cut down his strikeouts over the years at a time that league-wide strikeout rates have soared. All told, Springer has averaged 5.1 wins above replacement per 650 plate appearances -- a rate of production few players in the game can match.

With that said, he missed time due to a hamstring injury in 2019, an issue the Blue Jays surely hope was an aberration. After all, the better Springer’s legs feel, the better equipped he’ll be to handle centre field as he ages into his thirties. To this point, his mobility has been excellent with 82nd percentile sprint speed in 2020, according to Baseball Savant.

The move comes during a busy week for the Blue Jays, who also agreed to terms with relievers Tyler Chatwood and Kirby Yates. Once those deals become official, the club will have made considerable improvements to a team that finished 32-28 a year ago. Next up will be answers on the infield and perhaps further additions to the pitching staff.

But regardless of how the rest of the winter unfolds, the addition of Springer means the Blue Jays will begin spring training with a legitimate chance of returning to the playoffs in 2021.

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