Springer, formerly of the Houston Astros, entered the winter ranked by CBS Sports as the top available free agent. At the time, we noted that he is an "above-average center fielder who has notched an OPS+ north of 120 in six of his seven seasons" with 20-plus home runs in five of his last six tries. Springer is a dynamic, All-Star-level talent, in fewer words, and he should represent a noticeable upgrade over Randal Grichuk, Toronto's starting center fielder in 47 of its 60 games.
Springer's arrival means the Jays will likely run out a most-days lineup of this:
- CF George Springer
- 2B Cavan Biggio
- SS Bo Bichette
- 3B Vladimir Guerrero Jr.
- DH Teoscar Hernandez
- LF Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
- 1B Rowdy Tellez
- RF Randal Grichuk
- C Alejandro Kirk
The exact order isn't certain, and manager Charlie Montoyo might prefer Danny Jansen behind the plate at the season's onset (Kirk has been a popular name in trade talks this winter). Additionally, The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported after the Springer news broke that Toronto has maintained interest in Michael Brantley, another former Astro who would likely slot in at DH. For the most part, though, that's probably the Blue Jays' Opening Day lineup -- and it's a good-looking one.
The same can't be said about the Jays' rotation. At present, they're banking on continued health and brilliance from Hyun-jin Ryu; bounce-back efforts from Robbie Ray, Tanner Roark, and Ross Stripling; and a quick ascent from Nate Pearson. Toronto would be doing well to add a starter with a higher floor between now and Opening Day (though the market is admittedly running dry on those types).
Still, there's more than enough here to think the Blue Jays will once again compete for a playoff spot. What's more is that there's a reasonable case to be made that -- at least as things stand -- the Blue Jays are the biggest hurdle standing between the New York Yankees and their second American League East crown in three years. For context on that statement, let's check in with the other three teams in the division.
The Rays won the division last year, but their offseason has thus far been defined by subtraction rather than addition. Starting pitchers Blake Snell and Charlie Morton are now with National League contenders, and Tampa Bay's pursuits of potential replacements (namely Joe Musgrove and Corey Kluber) have failed. The Rays will, ostensibly, find another veteran starting pitcher before camp, and they certainly have the means to improve through internal promotions -- e.g. top prospect Wander Franco -- but until they make those additions the Rays appear a step behind.
The Red Sox have made some downmarket moves this winter -- retaining Martin Perez, adding Hunter Renfroe and Matt Andriese -- but they haven't done much to move the needle. Getting back Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez, provided they're fully healthy, should give the Red Sox more upside than they had in 2020. Unless the Red Sox add ceiling, likely through the free-agent market, it's doubtful they'll make enough noise to compete alongside the Yankees, Jays, and Rays for the division.
The Orioles are too busy "operating within the economic framework of the collective bargaining agreement" to bother trying to compete in 2021.