George Springer started his big-league career with a Houston club that had a great young core and quickly became post-season regulars.
The new Toronto outfielder sees a lot of similarities between the youthful base from those strong Astros teams and the youngsters who make up the Blue Jays’ nucleus.
“It is a young lineup but it’s a very talented, advanced younger lineup,” Springer said. “I think everything that I’ve heard and everything that I’ve seen is that they’re very, very ambitious, that they want to win and they work hard.
“That’s pretty much awesome. It’s awesome to see.”
Springer was introduced by the Blue Jays on a video call Wednesday after his six-year contract became official over the weekend. The US$150-million deal was a franchise record for a team that’s on a win-now course after returning to the playoffs last summer as a wild-card entry.
Blue Jays president Mark Shapiro said Springer brings a long list of attributes to the club, including experience, reliability, dependability, character and impact-player skills.
“We think that’s the perfect fit for our team,” he said. “Where we are now and where we’re headed.”
Springer, 31, put on a cap and buttoned his white Blue Jays uniform at the start of the 40-minute call with reporters, adding with a smile that it was “a good fit.”
“At the end of the day I wanted to go to where I believed I was going to be happy,” Springer said. “And I believe I am.”
Springer debuted with the Astros in 2014 and spent seven seasons with the team. He was the World Series MVP in 2017 and won the AL Silver Slugger Award in 2018 and ‘19.
The Blue Jays, meanwhile, made ALCS appearances in 2015-16 before entering a three-year rebuild.
The signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu in December 2019 showed that a franchise turn was approaching. Opening the free-agent wallet again for Springer showed that long-discussed future plans were now at hand.
Ryu served as the rock of the rotation last season and youngsters like Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Lourdes Gurriel Jr., started to blossom as the Jays improved to 32-28.
“The way that the front office has really gotten behind their guys, the message is that they really believe in this team,” Springer said. “That’s obviously really important to me.”
It has been a busy month for Canada’s lone big-league club. The Blue Jays also recently signed right-handers Tyler Chatwood and Kirby Yates, the 2019 MLB saves leader, to one-year deals.
A reported $18-million, one-year deal with infielder Marcus Semien is expected to become official this week upon completion of a physical. He hit .223 with seven homers and 23 RBIs in 53 games last season, a year after finishing third in AL MVP voting.
Additional free-agent signings or trades remain a possibility as there are still areas of need, most notably rotation depth. However, the chances of another eye-popping contract appear low.
“We’ve got some flexibility, but the bulk of our heavy lifting is done,” Shapiro said. “There still are opportunities for (GM) Ross (Atkins) and our baseball operations group to be creative in what they do.”
Springer’s arrival provides an anchor in the heart of Toronto’s batting order and a steady presence in centre field. A Blue Jays team coming off a first-round sweep will enter the 2021 campaign with much higher expectations.
“We feel like we’ve taken the next step and we’ll see where that takes us,” Atkins said.
The 31-year-old Springer was a powerhouse in Houston’s 2017 World Series win over the Los Angeles Dodgers, a title now tainted by the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
“I believe in myself and I believe in my performances,” he said when the issue came up on the call. “I believe in the team that was there.”
He joins a club that has yet to finalize where it will play home games this year. Border restrictions forced the Blue Jays to play home games in Buffalo last year.
If Rogers Centre is not an option when the 2021 season begins in a few months, the team’s spring training field in Dunedin, Fla., is expected to serve as a temporary home venue.
Springer had career bests of a .292 average with 39 homers and 96 RBIs in 2019. In 51 games in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he hit .265 with 14 homers and 32 RBIs.
“I pride myself on being consistent,” he said. “I don’t want to be that hot-cold guy. I want to make sure that I bring the same thing every day, all the time. I’m not an individual goal guy I guess.
“I want to win. I want the team to win and I’m willing to do what I have to do on my end to make that happen.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2021.
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Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press