Jays GM eager to reap benefits of Springer deal
GM Atkins eager to reap the return from Us$150-million pact that rocked off-season
In the two months George Springer has been a presence around the Toronto Blue Jays, general manager Ross Atkins has learned plenty about the team's superstar in waiting.
He's learned the centre-fielder puts together a solid playlist in the clubhouse. He's learned even more about Springer's professionalism and the positive effect he has on his new teammates.
But what really has Atkins enthused is what he's going to get in return for that six-year, Us$150-million contract that rocked the baseball off-season.
Springer won't be in the lineup when the Jays begin a threegame series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Friday night at Tropicana Field, but a weekend appearance remains a possibility.
And as big as that first meeting with the Rays will be — a return to where the Jays had it handed to them in a swift two-game playoff sweep last October — what happens at the team's Dunedin training complex on Friday morning may be even larger.
Springer will play centre field in an intrasquad game (and face recuperating Nate Pearson, by the way) and afterward will be closely evaluated before the team decides the next move.
“He's extremely confident and strong and now it's just a matter of recovery and putting him in a position to play nine innings and feel like he can face elite majorleague pitching,” Atkins said on a Thursday Zoom call from St. Petersburg, Fla.
“Very encouraged by where he is and super excited about (Friday). It will be a very important day to determine what that next step is and what's best for him and what's best for the team. We're exceptionally excited.”
The debut of Springer won't solve all of what has kept the Jays below .500, but he could be a huge presence at the top of manager Charlie Montoyo's batting order, a boost of confidence to those below him who have been scuffling.
The leadoff position, which Springer will assume from a struggling Marcus Semien, has been a major hole while Vlad Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette have been carrying an inordinate amount of the offensive load. Those are the tangibles the 2017 World Series MVP is expected to bring.
Then there's the intangible of having a superstar presence in a clubhouse already bursting with confidence and enthusiasm.
“He has a lot of energy and is extremely uplifting,” Atkins said. “He embraces competition, so he gets a lot of energy from getting ready for a game, obviously playing in one, and winning them. That will be a positive influence.”
With Friday's absence, it will be 19 games and counting for Springer, a good chunk of earnings banked without an at-bat. The quad injury that was preceded by a Grade 2 oblique strain is mostly recovered.
In the intrasquad game, where the Jays can dictate his at-bats and work on the bases, the team will get a good idea of his fitness and his recovery time.
If the weekend isn't a possibility, then Springer assuredly will be ready for the Jays' next Dunedin homestand beginning Tuesday against the Washington Nationals.
“We just want to see how he
responds, how he feels, how he's feeling later into the game with multiple at bats and then see how he recovers the next day before we make that decision,” Atkins said.
The 8-10 Jays haven't completely held serve through an uneven opening three weeks of the season, but given the injury carnage throughout the lineup, it hasn't been a disaster.
Beyond the imminent arrival of Springer, there's more positive roster news around the corner. Teoscar Hernandez is eligible to come off the COVID-19 list on Friday, though he will take some time to return to game shape.
As well, reliever Tyler Chatwood
is expected back Friday and Jordan Romano the following day, a pair of high-leverage arms for a bullpen that has done a terrific job despite the absences. And the news on the rotation is encouraging as it pertains to Pearson.
Atkins said the hard-throwing righty will toss between two and three innings on Friday and then go four to five for his next outing.
“After that, I think he could be an option, depending on how things go,” Atkins said.
“We want to be very thoughtful and (make sure) we are putting him in a good position as well as he's a very young player.”
Meanwhile, in acknowledging
some of the defensive struggles experienced by third baseman Cavan Biggio and shortstop Bichette, Atkins remains optimistic the pair will survive the learning curve.
“Bo and Cavan are learning their positions at the majorleague level,” Atkins said.
“We knew there was the growth and development there. And with young players, you're going to see extreme highs and then you're going to see some lows. We've seen some exceptional plays from both of those guys and that gives us a lot of confidence that we should stick with these positions for those individuals.”
Felix Auger Aliassime, above, beat Denis Shapovalov 6-2, 6-3 in a third-round battle of Canadians on Thursday at the Barcelona Open. Auger-aliassime, the No. 10 seed, moves on to face No. 2 seed Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece in a quarter-final on Friday.