You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring(er) from coming - Pablo Naruda
Its a good day to be a Blue Jays fan, so you can forgive my unnecessary use of a cliché here. After all, its not often we get to see free agents in any sport signing a nine-figure contract to come and play north of the border. But that’s what happened yesterday when the Blue Jays signed George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract, the largest free agent contract handed out by the team in its history.
This has been a roller coaster of an offseason for Blue Jays, but the climax seems to be one filled with satisfaction and excitement despite stomach churning turns when the Padres and Mets decided to compete and vie for every major available player in trade or via free agency. But here we are, after a few solid signings over the past few days, the Blue Jays have finally landed the white whale fans had been hoping for to augment its young and talented core.
No matter how you slice and dice it, George Springer is a massive addition to this Blue Jays lineup. Right out of the gate, he’s their best hitter on this team as well as an improvement in center field defense. Since his service-time-manipulated rookie season in 2014, Springer ranks 18th in fWAR across all position players and fifth among outfielders behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, and Bryce Harper.
Springer is an above average offensive player all around. Since coming up to the majors, his wRC+ has continued to climb up from 129 in 2014 to 146 last year for average of 134 over his career. His lowest numbers were in 2018 where he still posted a 118 wRC+. Considering wRC+ for center fielders during this period has ranged between 94 and 103 – all the while including Mike Trout’s otherworldly numbers – indicates how much of a boost it gives the Blue Jays. Over the past 7 seasons, he’s seen his strikeout rates going from 33 percent in 2014 to 17.1 percent in 2020 thanks to his improved ability to make contact on pitches inside and out of the strike zone. In 2014, he only made contact on 43 percent of pitches that he chased while only connecting with 68.4 percent of pitches in the zone. In 2020, those numbers rose to 60.7 and 85.1 percent respectively.
In addition, he provides improved defense over Randall Grichuk, the Blue Jays presumed starting CF until late Tuesday night, as well as improved baserunning. Here’s how he profiles overall:
And here’s his average sprint speed relative to other center-fielders
This makes Blue Jays instantly better. A team that went 32-28 in 2020 – an 86-win pace during a full season – means adding a player like Springer can get you close to the 90 wins you may need in a full season to compete for a wild card spot. Given the two teams in AL East – Yankees & Tampa – would compete for a division spot, adding players like Springer and Kirby Yates puts Blue Jays in a position to secure one of the two wild card spots. Of course, with uncertainty this year around playoffs, with MLB hoping for another extended playoffs in 2021, Blue Jays today are in a pretty good position to play October baseball than they were a few days ago.
Adding Springer offers Blue Jays a lot of different options when it comes to roster management. Hitting at the top of the order pushes all the kids down a spot. While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette might take over the mantle for best offensive players on the team in the next year or two, right now, Springer unquestionably is the guy, and his presence should ease off some pressure for other players to continue their development.
According to Zips, Springer adds approximately four wins to the Blue jays this year and has him produce at a high level for the next three years before he starts to drop off. And this is the period that potentially coincides with the time the Blue Jays front office would hope when we get to see the peaks Guerrero, Bichette, Nate Pearson et al.
Dan Szymborski did a more detailed analysis on FanGraphs which you can read here. But I would take his kind of production any day over the next six years. Of course these are all projections and according to Szymborski, ZiPS has been kind to him in the last few years of the contract. If the Blue Jays are able to make multiple trips to post season, it would be worth it.
The Blue Jays now have six outfielders on their 40-man roster which opens up intriguing possibilities for them. This pushes Grichuk to potentially a fourth outfielder role which he’s better suited for given his limited offensive upside. They can put Teoscar Hernández at designated hitter more often, playing Grichuk in right which is sure to improve their outfield defense.
Another intriguing possibility is that it potentially opens the door to explore Lourdes Gurriel Jr’s value on the trade market. No doubt Gurriel is great piece in the Blue Jays lineup, but given the value of his contract – four year of control with 15 million due over the next 3 years - the 27-year-old outfielder could potentially be a piece in a trade for a starter, an area Blue Jays would still love to improve.
Is Springer overpaid? Yes, probably, but that’s a moot point. This is what it took for Blue Jays to sign Springer and given the suppressed player salaries early in their careers and the value Springer produced during that time means he deserves every bit of the contract. It also sheds a couple of narratives that free agents don’t like coming north and that Blue Jays ownership is cheap. Two offseasons in a row they’ve handed out big contracts despite playing in a pandemic-affected environment.
Azam Farooqui is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score and can be reached at @afarooqui21