Although we haven’t been able to see it as much as we would like because of injuries, when he’s been healthy George Springer has shown Blue Jays fans why the front office signed him to a six year, 150 million dollar contract as a free agent last offseason.
His latest injury is a Grade 1 knee strain that he should recover from before the end of the regular season, and earlier it was both calf and oblique issues that held him out. As I said, when he’s been healthy he’s been a productive leader of the offence, earning 1.7 bWAR by slashing .269/.362/.610 with 16 home runs and 35 RBI over just 49 games and 182 at-bats.
It’s a shame the 3x All-Star was injured again recently, as he’d been a major factor in their win streak to begin the month, winning back to back Player of the Week honours. His injury also felt like a big momentum shift in the season for this talented young team, and a turning point that they really haven’t recovered from.
The natural assumption for a contract like Springer’s is that the Blue Jays could count on an Average Annual Value of 25 million per season as a number to factor into their budget. However, there was a unique wrinkle put into Springer’s contract that puts him at his most expensive in 2022. According to spotrac.com, next season he’ll make $29.67 million, followed by $24.17 each year for the last four seasons of his contract. This season he made his lowest figure in the deal at $23.17 million.
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What would be the motivation for structuring the deal like that?
Without knowing for certain, my guess is that the Blue Jays were looking ahead and understood that they could afford to pay a little more in 2022 than they might be able to in the following seasons. The primary reason for that will be the rising salaries for young stars like Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, who were both pre-arbitration eligible this season and barely made more than a million between them. Teoscar Hernandez and Jose Berrios are due to receive significant raises through the same process this winter, and will only be more expensive in 2023 and beyond if they’re going to stick around. Berrios is a free agent at the end of the 2022 season, and Hernandez after 2023.
For now the Blue Jays likely understood that they could save almost a million per season from 2023-26 by taking on a little more of Springer’s contract early on, and that makes a lot of sense. I recently wrote about all of the extension candidates that Ross Atkins and company will have to think about in the near future, and it’s going to be very difficult to keep the entire band together. That said, even pre-paying nearly a million per season on Springer’s contract will give them more flexibility to consider those extensions, and more importantly, a little more money to play with to add supporting pieces to the roster.
I think it’s safe to say that we’ve entered a “win-now” phase for the Blue Jays, and I don’t think that’s going to come with their typical financial restraint. That said, even if ownership approves a franchise-record payroll, there’s going to be a limit to what Atkins is allowed to spend.
We’ll see if the extra 4+ million from Springer’s AAV makes any difference in next year’s payroll, but I doubt that’ll be the case. More importantly, it might aid them get one more reliever sometime in 2023-26, and that could be a quietly helpful little savings.