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The Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash this week by signing one of the top free agents on the market, outfielder George Springer, but they have also made some other moves to bolster their pitching as well, signing Kirby Yates and Tyler Chatwood.
The biggest move, of course, is the signing of George Springer to a six-year deal worth $150 million, the biggest free agent deal in the Blue Jays’ history, almost doubling what they paid Russell Martin and Hyun-jin Ryu.
The signing of Springer addresses a huge need for the Blue Jays as they get the three-time All-Star and center fielder on a front-loaded deal that will pay him $10 million as a signing bonus, $22 million in 2021, $28 million in 2022 and then $22.5 million for each year from 2023-2026. There are bonuses of $150,000 for winning an MVP award and $50,000 for a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, World Series MVP or an All-Star selection.
There’s a lot of excitement in the Blue Jays’ fandom about the signing and rightfully so. Springer has been worth 26.6 WAR (according to Fangraphs) for his seven-year career, peaking with a 6.5-WAR season in 2019 in which he hit .292/.383/.591 with 39 home runs. In 2020, he hit 14 home runs in just 51 games, hitting .265/.359/.540 with a solid 10.8% walk rate and very good 17.1% strikeout rate (especially for a power hitter).
Since coming into the major leagues, Springer hasn’t had a wRC+ under 119 over the course of his career and has produced at least 2.9 WAR in a full season (his 78-game rookie season an his 51-game 2020 season are not counted in this tally).
Of course, there is a down side with Springer. He’s heavily linked to the 2017 sign-stealing scandal of the Astros. In that season, he hit a stellar .283/.367/.522 with 34 home runs and 4.5 WAR as the player on the Astros with the second most “trash can bangs” on the team. That said, after a down season in 2018, his monster 2019 and solid 2020 could indicate that he doesn’t need the trash cans to be a force at the plate.
The Blue Jays are getting an excellent player who can play solid defense at a premium position and the Jays have been in need of a good defensive center fielder for some time. While the Jays will have four players worthy of being a starting outfielder, Springer will probably push one of Lourdes Gurriel, Randal Grichuk or Teoscar Hernandez to a DH spot for some games as the Jays rotate their outfielders. It’s definitely a good problem to have.
In other, smaller news, the Blue Jays have signed a pair of pitchers over the past few days. The first was reliever Kirby Yates who signed a one-year, $5.5 million contract with bonuses that could take him to $10 million overall. Yates missed most of 2020 with surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow but the 33-year-old righty has been a dominant closer in recent years, earning an All-Star berth in 2019 and leading the Padres with 41 saves and a 1.19 ERA with a 0.89 WHIP, 101 strikeouts and just 13 walks in 60 2/3 innings. He was following up a 2.14 ERA season with 90 strikeouts in 63 innings and another sub-1.00 WHIP.
If Yates can come back in a similar form as 2018 and 2019 after his surgery, he’ll be a dominant force at the back of the Blue Jays’ pen and could relieve the pressure on guys like Jordan Romano and maybe Julian Merryweather as the leverage ratchets up.Tyler Chatwood was the other pitcher signed by the Jays, with the word that he’d probably be used as a reliever by the Blue Jays, despite having started throughout his career. A major leaguer since 2011, he’s got a 4.40 ERA and 1.51 WHIP over his 846 2/3 innings and has made 197 appearances (143 as a starter). He was somewhat mediocre last year, posting a 5.30 ERA and 1.66 WHIP over 18 2/3 innings with 25 strikeouts and nine walks but one of his best seasons was 2019 in which he was used mostly as a reliever and had a 3.76 ERA and 1.33 WHIP, striking out 74 and walking 37 in 76 2/3 innings. Chatwood will get a guarantee of $3 million with incentives for a potential $2.5 million more, based on hitting innings-pitched thresholds. The biggest bonuses come above the 120-inning threshold, which seems to indicate that if the Jays use him as a starter, he’ll get the biggest bump in pay.
To make room for adding these players, the Blue Jays have made a couple of smaller transactions. They designated Anthony Castro for assignment and traded Hector Perez to the Reds for a player to be named later or cash.
While the Jays could really use another starter, it’s great to see that they’re addressing bullpen quality (with Yates) and depth (with Chatwood) as well as landing one of the biggest free agents in the game (with Springer).
What do you think of the Jays’ activity in recent days?
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