The toughest moment in any new Blue Jay’s career is the moment he has to decide whether he’s going to publicly resent exile in Canada.
A few guys – a very few – actually like the idea. Over four seasons in a Toronto uniform, R.A. Dickey’s greatest contribution to the club may have been his introductory presser. Dickey had been traded to Toronto – a sentence that usually implies the word “unwillingly.”
But in his first remarks, he came off as genuinely delighted by the prospect.
“Obviously, I’m overjoyed to be here …” was how Dickey started off.
Looking back on it now, that “obviously” changed a lot of things for the Jays.
It was 2013. The team had just been fired by its own manager, John Ferrell, who left to join the Red Sox. The Jays weren’t just losers. They were the only team in baseball that couldn’t even hire a date to the prom.
With a few kind words, Dickey flipped that impression. His arrival set the stage for that great run in 2015. He made it okay for other players to feel good about coming to Toronto.
After the Jays dismantled that team and embarked on an ambitious campaign of mediocrity, that impression had flipped back again.
Then George Springer made the heroic choice to take a huge personal risk by coming to Toronto (and accepting enough guaranteed money to buy himself and his wife their own F-18 fighter jets).
Springer’s six-year, US$150-million deal is a significant overpay. Given Springer’s championship pedigree and postseason résumé, it’s also a reasonable one.
Amid the celebratory “Toronto’s back!” vibe, there was a question nobody wanted to ask – did Springer come for the team and the money, or was it just the money?
After listening to Springer speak for most of an hour during his unveiling on Wednesday, one impression leaps to mind – polished.
Springer is a mildly charismatic, perfectly pleasant, unshakably reliable cliché machine. He loves the fanbase, can’t wait to represent an entire country, plays hard every day, team-first all the way, etc. etc.
For instance: “I see myself as a normal guy who’s going to show up to the park every day and play the best I can.”
And: “I loved playing [at Rogers Centre]. I always thought it was a kind of electric atmosphere. The place was always packed. The fans were into every play and every pitch.”
Yes, that’s exactly what the guys at the yacht store say about George – totally normal guy. And I’m not sure what he means by “always packed” or “every pitch,” but it sounds nice.
Did it bother him that the team may not start the year at that Rogers Centre he loves so much?
“To be totally honest, it didn’t.”
Would he have preferred to go to the New York Mets, the other rumoured suitor in the Springer sweepstakes?
“This is about the Blue Jays. I don’t really have anything to say about that matter.”
What about the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal? We seem to recall you were a key member of a team that …
“I believe in myself. I believe in my performance. I believe in the team that was there” – followed by total stillness and a steady, but not challenging, stare.
This guy. This guy is good. Not at baseball. I’m referring to his talking points.
Springer arrived with a gentle ‘Rah, Rah, Canada!’ script and would not be budged from it. If you find yourself on trial for murder, you can only hope you have a George Springer willing to testify on your behalf.
So why did Springer come here? Obviously, it was the money. But at least he has the decency to pretend it was also the team. That’s not nothing.
Remember this moment. This was either the start of something, or Springer’s high-water mark in Toronto (as it was for Dickey). Because others on the call made it clear that if baseball is an arms race, the Jays are no longer buying artillery.
The real news lede of the day was provided by team president Mark Shapiro: “We’ve got some [payroll] flexibility, but the bulk of our heavy lifting is done.”
So for now and maybe forever, that’s it. No Trevor Bauer. No front-line free-agent starter, or as-close-to-guaranteed-as-is-possible (i.e. not very) free-agent closer. The Jays now have one of the most impressive on-paper lineups in baseball (one that will soon include an intriguing reclamation project in former Oakland A Marcus Semien).
The pitching staff? That’s not so hot. After Hyun-Jin Ryu, things get speculative very quickly. Maybe Nate Pearson is ready for his close-up. And then maybe all the nearly identical beardos that follow are fully recovered from various internal arm explosions that have blighted their recent careers.
It’s possible the Jays pitching staff might be fine. “Possible” and “might” are the George Springer of that sentence – they’re doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.
In his elliptical way, Shapiro made clear that there might be more money if the Jays win now and continue winning whenever they can get back to full houses and fat bottom lines. So in that sentence, “might” means “probably won’t.”
Springer seems like a lovely guy. He’s certainly a proved performer who’s seen a few things. So I hope he knows what he’s got himself into.
It isn’t all the things the Jays media staff coached him up on saying Wednesday. It isn’t representing a whole country, or loving a city, or giving it 100 per cent every time he goes out there.
His one and only job is carrying a franchise, possibly by himself, for as long as he’s here making the big bucks. If he does that, he’ll be rich and loved. And if it goes wrong, he’ll still be rich.