By MARK SIMON
With a talented group of young players, the Blue Jays seem committed to being in ‘Go For It’ mode for the near term, and they further solidified their roster this week by agreeing to a six-year contract with free agent outfielder George Springer.
Springer is a three-time All-Star and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner who was named the 2017 World Series MVP in a seven-year career with the Astros. From 2016 to 2019 he averaged 31 home runs and 141 games and posted an .859 OPS. He bettered the latter with an .899 OPS in 51 games in the shortened 2020 season.
Springer will likely be the everyday center fielder for the Blue Jays after splitting time between center and right field through most of his Astros career. The Blue Jays have options with how to align their other outfielders 27-year-old Lourdes Gurriel potentially in left field and 28-year-old Tesocar Hernández in right field.
Springer should upgrade the Blue Jays outfield defense, which ranked 28th in Defensive Runs Saved last season. He’s saved 13 runs in a little under 900 innings with his defense in center field the last two seasons. On a per-inning basis, that’s comparable to Rays Gold Glove winning-center fielder Kevin Kiermaier and ranks among the top-third of center fielders.
Here are a couple of examples of Springer making tough plays. He’s rated above-average at getting outs both on balls hit to the shallowest and deepest part of the ballpark.
The Bill James Handbook 2021 projects Springer for 33 home runs and an .863 OPS in 144 games this coming season. That should mesh well with Gurriel (projected for 23 home runs and a .787 OPS) and Hernández (27 and .764).
There is a high ceiling for the Blue Jays infield, particularly second baseman Cavan Biggio, shortstop Bo Bichette, and third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. The Handbook projects Biggio for an .810 OPS and 26 home runs despite a batting average of only .238 (Biggio is projected for 116 walks) and forecasts a 22-home run, 22-stolen base season from Bichette (.791 OPS).
Guerrero has not yet lived up to the lofty expectations that preceded him. The projection system forecasts him for his best season yet, an .836 OPS with 26 home runs in 157 games.
The Blue Jays’ pitching staff is much more of a question mark than the offense. At the moment, their projected fivesome of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, Nate Pearson and Ross Stripling includes three pitchers (Ray, Roark, and Stripling) who pitched to a 6.42 ERA in a combined 148 2/3 innings pitched in 2020.
The closer role is uncertain for now, though Toronto did just sign former Padres closer Kirby Yates. The team’s hope is that he’ll return to the form he showed when he pitched to a 1.19 ERA with 41 saves in 2019. Yates had a 12.46 ERA in six games last season, most of which he missed with an elbow injury. The backup option is Rafael Dolis, who pitched very well (1.50 ERA) in 24 innings in 2020, his first season pitching in the majors since 2013. The Handbook‘s projections like Yates for a bounceback and a 3.00 ERA in 2021.
The bottom line is that the Blue Jays can hit with just about anyone in baseball. Their new additions provide assurances to that. We’ll see in the next few weeks what countermoves AL teams will make, as there’s still plenty of free agent talent to be had.
You can purchase The Bill James Handbook here.