Blue Jays: Springer’s Arrival Shades of Donaldson in 2015
By Ty Hudec
The Toronto Blue Jays made one of the biggest moves of the off-season when they inked outfielder George Springer to a club record six-year, $150 million deal back in January.
The move made waves throughout the baseball world and ramped up excitement for the upcoming season across Canada. In a moment, the Blue Jays went from being viewed as an up-and-coming squad a few years away from contention, to an immediate playoff contender in the American League.
The last time Toronto added a position player to this much fanfare was prior to the 2015 season, when soon-to-be MVP Josh Donaldson was acquired from Oakland. There are some similarities between Springer’s arrival this off-season and Donaldson’s back in 2015. Both men joined the team in the prime of their careers and were looked at as a game-changing piece for lineups already stacked with high-end talent.
When Donaldson arrived, the Blue Jays offence really began to take flight. After scoring 723 runs in 2014, good for 4th in the AL, Toronto exploded with a league-high 891 runs in that magical 2015 season. Now Donaldson wasn’t the only player who helped make a difference for the Blue Jays that year, but he was the primary driver of the Toronto offence. Stacking a lineup with Donaldson, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and eventually Troy Tulowitzki allowed the Jays to overcome a mediocre start to the season from the defence and the pitching staff. When the trade deadline came around the team was hovering around .500, the underlying numbers told a different story. The front office knew that shoring up run prevention would allow the club to take off and it did in a big way once David Price and Tulowitzki came to town.
Fast-forward to 2021 and Toronto is hoping George Springer and the new look offence will be able to carry the team much like Donaldson and the 2015 group was able to do. Last year, the Jays ranked 3rd in the AL with 302 runs scored, prorated to 815 over a full campaign (keep in mind that runs are up across the Majors in recent years). Now no one is expecting another 170 run increase to be in the cards, but if Springer can provide even a fraction of the spark that Donaldson did, there’s no reason that the Jays can’t challenge to be the highest scoring team in the AL once again. With young studs like Bo Bichette, Teoscar Hernandez, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr alongside the new acquisitions, the talent is there.
The main key will be for the offence to keep the team afloat early in the year. After failing to upgrade the starting rotation in the off-season, the front office appears set to wait it out and potentially address that group with a mid-season trade like Alex Anthopoulos did in 2015. That puts more pressure on the offence to step up and for the team defence to show some growth from a year ago. Springer will be relied on heavily in both of those endeavours. His defence is expected to be a significant upgrade in centre field, much like Donaldson’s was at third base when he arrived.
Another similarity to 2015 is that George Springer wasn’t the only veteran bat brought in to help lengthen the Toronto line-up. Marcus Semien also arrives just one seaon removed from putting up career numbers across the board in 2019. Back in 2015 it was Russell Martin signing a five-year deal just weeks before the Donaldson trade, after a successful two-year run in Pittsburgh. In fact, each of those four players garnered MVP votes in one of the two seasons prior to them joining the Blue Jays. Each also arrived as respected, veteran leaders ready to make a mark in the clubhouse. After years of watching those types of players leave town, it’s easy to see why the fanbase thinks Springer’s arrival could jumpstart the next great era of Blue Jays baseball.
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Now the current team is much younger this time around, meaning Springer will be relied on even more for his leadership. He’s also two years older than Donaldson was when he debuted in Toronto and has a more established track record. Springer arrives with seven big league seasons, three All-Star appearances, two Silver Sluggers, and a World Series MVP already under his belt. His next challenge is to elevate the guys around him and be a stabilizing force for a young group that will inevitably experience some more growing pains.
Donaldson’s brilliant 2015 season saw the third baseman hit 41 home runs with 123 RBI and a slash line of .297/.371/.568. Springer’s age 29 season looked very similar back in 2019. He finished with 39 homers, 96 RBI while slashing .292/.383/.591 for the AL Champions in Houston. That was good for 7th in the American League’s MVP race that year. If Springer is able to produce at that kind of level again, the Blue Jays will be in a prime position to challenge for their first division title in six years. A return to the playoffs, led by Springer, could also see another MVP trophy make its way north of the border. He’s that kind of player.
Either way, it’s exciting to think of all the possibilities that could be in store for this Blue Jays offence. That 2015 squad was able to hit its way out of trouble almost on cue and this year’s team certainly has the potential to do the same. A trip to the ALCS is still a long-shot for this group, but Springer’s addition to the lineup guarantees that the journey will be an exciting one regardless of the destination.