The Blue Jays won back-to-back World Series in 1992-93. They finished first in the American League East once in the 27 seasons since.
That doesn’t make much sense. Toronto is the fourth-largest city in North America and, in theory, has an entire nation as its primary market. It’s also one of the most pleasant, cleanest, and diverse places to visit.
The team is owned by Rogers Communications, one of Canada’s largest companies.
“I think there’s no limit to what this market can be,” team president Mark Shapiro said. “It’s a behemoth.”
The giant is stirring with the Jays signing George Springer to a six-year, $150 million contract, the largest in franchise history.
It feels more like a first step, not a finishing touch.
“This signing is a reflection of the plan and where we were going to go at the right time,” Shapiro said.
Springer, 31, is a three-time All-Star with 63 games of playoff experience and a World Series ring. He plans to let his leadership evolve over time, but the Jays see him as a catalyst who can help get the most out of Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Lourdes Gurriel Jr., and their other standout young players.
The Jays also signed Marcus Semien to play shortstop, which will push Bichette to third and leave Guerrero at first, where he was likely to fit long term regardless.
“The young core is obviously very impressive,” Springer said. “The way the front office has gotten behind those guys, the message is they really believe in this team. That’s obviously very important to me.”
Springer, a Connecticut native, spurned the Mets for the Jays and said any issues with travel or living in another country were meaningless in the big picture.
“At the end of the day, I wanted to go to where I believed I was going to be happy, and I believe I am,” he said.
The Jays re-signed Robbie Ray for the rotation and have since signed free agent swingman Tyler Chatwood and traded with the Mets for Steven Matz.
Shapiro said the “heavy lifting” was done, but they could use an established starter behind ace lefthander Hyun Jin Ryu. Bringing back Taijuan Walker or signing Jake Odorizzi would make sense. The advantage of all the young talent is that costs are controlled for now and the Jays can afford to add payroll in the short term.
Run prevention was an offseason priority, something a new center fielder and shortstop should provide.
“It wasn’t just a center fielder, it was George Springer that was so attractive to us,” executive vice president of baseball operations Ross Atkins said.
“We had a lot of different ways we could have made our team better. But he was a very good fit with his impact on both sides of the ball and the base-running capability.”
Atkins said the front office talks often about building a winning environment, something he and Shapiro fostered in Cleveland. Springer is a player they feel will contribute in that aspect, too.
“His experience will add a certain level of wisdom to our players,” Shapiro said. “He’s been places where our guys haven’t been yet and knows how to handle those environments.”
Springer never started more than 84 games in center field with Houston, where he was more of a right fielder. How Springer’s legs will handle playing home games on artificial turf will be a challenge, although he played that down.
“Whatever they want me to do, I’ll gladly do it,” he said.
The Jays made the playoffs last season and were taken out in two games by the Rays in the wild-card round. Shapiro said his expectation was for continued improvement, higher revenues, and, in turn, more resources to improve the team.
Toronto also needs a new ballpark to replace the aging Rogers Centre, something under discussion for the present site or elsewhere in downtown Toronto.
All teams talk about building sustainable success. Toronto has that framework in place. Springer is a sign of what’s to come.
“This team is built to win, and they’re going to be built to win for a long time,” he said.
Dombrowski has power of persuasion
The main question asked of Dave Dombrowski when he was hired to run the Phillies was if he would be able to work around their financial limitations.
He has so far added roughly $40 million to their luxury-tax payroll. There’s your answer.
Most of that was re-signing catcher J.T. Realmuto to a five-year, $115.5 million deal. But Dombrowski also retained shortstop Didi Gregorius, who agreed to a new deal on Saturday.
Earlier, Dombrowski signed Archie Bradley and traded for Jose Alvarado and Sam Coonrod to improve the bullpen, and signed Matt Moore as a rotation option.
Dombrowski has a way of getting things done.
“There’s just too many good players on the Philadelphia Phillies baseball team to be thinking about transitioning,” he said earlier this month. “We’re thinking about winning.”
▪ At 37, Jon Lester is chasing a fourth ring.
“I still have a drive to win,” he said after signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Nationals. “I want to bring another ring back to D.C.”
Lester preferred to stay with the Cubs, but they didn’t make an offer until he was deep into talks with Washington.
The Nationals provided a level of comfort, too.
Manager Davey Martinez was bench coach with the Cubs from 2015-17. Pitching coach Jim Hickey had that position with the Cubs in 2018. Head athletic trainer Paul Lessard was with the Red Sox from 2006-09. One of his assistants, Greg Barajas, was in Boston from 2010-11.
Former Cubs teammate Kyle Schwarber joined the Nationals earlier this offseason and Lester let him know he’d be interested in joining him.
The Nationals have Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg as the alpha dogs of their rotation. Lester doesn’t mind letting somebody else have that role.
“It’s going to be nice to sit back and watch those guys work,” Lester said.
▪ It’s never wise to dismiss the Athletics, as they usually find a way to contend, but the events of this winter leave you wondering how viable they are as a franchise.
Marcus Semien finished third in the MVP voting in 2019. But when he hit free agency after last season, Oakland didn’t make him an $18.9 million qualifying offer out of fear he’d accept.
Oakland’s only offer to him, per The Athletic, was for $12.5 million with a decade of deferrals. Oakland let a Bay Area native with 9.4 WAR the last two seasons walk away for nothing. Semien landed in Toronto for one year and $18 million.
Cashman didn’t want to deal with Sox
Brian Cashman has avoided trades with the Red Sox since he became general manager of the Yankees in 1998. The exception was a minor move at the 2014 deadline that swapped Kelly Johnson for Stephen Drew.
That changed Monday when the Yankees sent Adam Ottavino, 23-year-old Single A righthander Frank German, and $850,000 to the Sox for a player to be named later or cash.
The return for the Yankees was essentially clearing $8.15 million of Ottavino’s salary off the books. They won’t be getting anything back of value from the Sox.
“I get what Chaim Bloom’s doing. I hope their fan base gets it, too,” Cashman said.
Cashman was negotiating with another team. But the Red Sox were willing to take on the bulk of Ottavino’s salary without a better prospect attached.
“It was a smart play by [Bloom]. He just imported a player that’s going to have a bounce-back year I’m sure,” Cashman said. “He was better than his numbers looked like last year … the last thing I wanted to do was put him in the hands of our competitors. That was a payroll-flexibility maneuver.”
Cashman is taking a chance. Ottavino has been nails against righthanded hitters his entire career and the Yankees are righthanded dominant.
“I suspect he’ll be pitching a lot of games against us for Boston,” Cashman said.
Ottavino was working out at Yankee Stadium when the deal was finalized. Cashman told him in person. Manager Aaron Boone happened to be there, too.
“That was a little weird,” Boone said.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Billy Beane apparently won’t be aligned with Fenway Sports Group any time soon.
Beane said this past week he would continue running the Athletics in the wake of a report by Axios that the proposed deal between his RedBall Acquisition Corp. and FSG had been called off.
RedBall’s plan at one time was to purchase a minority share of FSG.
▪ Center fielder Jarren Duran was 5 for 15 with seven runs, two doubles, two homers, six RBIs, three walks, and a stolen base and was named Most Valuable Player of the Puerto Rico Winter League finals.
Caguas swept the best-of-seven series from Mayaguez and starts play in the Caribbean Series on Sunday in Mexico. Duran will remain with the team for the remainder of the postseason.
▪ Blake Swihart, the 26th overall pick of the 2011 draft, has landed with Washington on a minor league deal. He hit .136 for Arizona in 2019 and did not play in the majors last season after signing with Texas.
▪ The COVID-19-related death of former first base coach and longtime minor league manager Ron Johnson was painful for many in baseball operations.
Johnson had a positive influence on a generation of accomplished Sox players — Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, and Kevin Youkilis were among those who played for him — and he filled up many a room with his cheerful demeanor. RJ will be missed.
It’s a Hall of a big mess
Jane Forbes Clark, who chairs the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, said the group would consider Curt Schilling’s request to be taken off the BBWAA ballot for what would be his final year of eligibility.
That board typically meets in July. The Hall denied the same request from Marvin Miller in 2008 when he asked not to be considered by the Veterans Committee.
Miller, the former executive director of the MLB Players Association, died in 2012 and was elected posthumously last year.
While it would be a welcome respite to go through a Hall election cycle without thinking of Schilling, changing a process that has worked relatively well to honor the greatest players in history would be a mistake.
Schilling’s request should be denied, the sooner the better. The BBWAA election was no more rigged than the presidential election.
Schilling is fond of casting himself as a victim of the media. But consider this: Schilling approved of a T-shirt calling for journalists to be lynched and 71.1 percent of a group of 401 journalists still voted for him.
The last president to reach 71.1 percent of the popular vote was James Monroe in 1820, when he ran virtually unopposed and received 80.6 percent.
It’s wrong to say the 28.9 percent of voters who passed on Schilling all did so because of his noxious comments. It’s not an outlandish opinion to believe Schilling falls short of Hall of Fame standards as Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy does.
Yet in a 1,200-word Facebook post that was equal parts self-pitying and self-aggrandizing, Schilling painted voters as “spineless cowards” conspiring against him and singled out Shaughnessy for insults. At the same time, he said he doesn’t consider himself a Hall of Famer.
It’s tiresome but on brand.
Schilling believes he would be more fairly judged via the committee process. The Today’s Game Committee, which considers players whose greatest impact came after 1988, is not scheduled to vote until December 2022.
Those 16-member committees are made up of Hall of Fame players, executives, and veteran reporters. The ballot is composed by a BBWAA-appointed screening committee and candidates need 75 percent of the votes to be inducted.
Committee voters have been stingy, electing only 11 candidates since 2014 compared with 22 by the BBWAA. Schilling may believe a committee vote is his best path to the Hall, but that’s not necessarily true.
It’s more likely that Schilling remains on the BBWAA ballot with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for a 10th and final year, only this time joined by Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz.
Buckle up for that.
More details are expected this coming week. But teams are still waiting to find out how spring training will be conducted. “There are a lot of unanswered questions,” Yankees GM Brian Cashman said. “There’s some guidance of what it’s probably going to look like. Teams are operating on a vague general framework.” Clubs are specifically eager to learn how many players will be allowed at camps, as that will determine how many coaches, trainers, and staffers are needed … The signing of Andrelton Simmons to play shortstop gives the Twins a blockade on the left side with Josh Donaldson at third base. They’ve been worth 83 Defensive Runs Saved the last four years. Most of that is Simmons, but Donaldson is a solid defender who should be able to cheat a half-step toward the line with Simmons next to him … Two interesting hires were made this past week. MLB named Ken Griffey Jr. as a senior adviser to commissioner Rob Manfred. He will consult with MLB on baseball operations and youth baseball development with an emphasis on improving diversity at the amateur levels. The MLB Players Association hired well-regarded Fangraphs.com writer Craig Edwards to its staff. He will be a senior analyst of economics and collective bargaining … The Worcester Red Sox will hold a virtual job fair Feb. 20-21 to fill part-time positions during the season, everything from ushers to playing the mascot. Visit woosox.com for information or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with specific questions … Two ambitious programs, Boston College and UConn, are scheduled to play twice this season, on March 30 in Storrs and April 27 in Chestnut Hill. They typically play once, but both teams were looking for nonconference games after other teams canceled their seasons … Happy birthday to Jim Willoughby, who is 72. The righthander made 109 relief appearances for the Sox from 1975-77. He pitched more than an inning in 65 of those games and on nine occasions went four or more innings. Willoughby faced the Reds three times in the 1975 World Series and didn’t allow an earned run over 6⅓ innings. Willoughby was on the mound in Game 3 when Ed Armbrister bunted in the 10th inning and seemed to interfere with Carlton Fisk. The Reds went on to a walkoff win. Willoughby was traded to the White Sox in 1978, having run afoul of manager Don Zimmer. Willoughby briefly coached the baseball team at Suffolk University in 1981.