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MLB Roundup 1/20: The Blue Jays had a day

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They add two big names, including one of the top in this year’s free agent class.

American League Championship Series Game 7: Tampa Bay Rays v. Houston Astros Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Blue Jays sign George Springer

Toronto has been much like the Red Sox for most of this winter in that they have been runners up for a whole lot of free agents, but they haven’t actually landed anyone of note. Well, that changed on Tuesday with a couple of high-profile additions, the bigger of which being George Springer. The former Astros star is heading north of the border (maybe; we still don’t know where the Blue Jays are playing in 2021) on a six-year deal worth $150 million.

This is obviously a big deal, both in the sense that it’s a big deal for the Blue Jays’ potential success but also just a big deal, like, in scope. Toronto is barreling towards contention with a young core, and after adding Hyun-Jin Ryu last offseason they took an even bigger swing here with Springer. And make no mistake, this is a major upgrade for their lineup. There are some legitimate questions as to how long Springer will be able to stick in center field — he will presumably be pencilled in there for 2021, at least — but there are not many about the bat. Over the last four seasons, the former first round pick and UConn star has had a wRC+ of at least 140 in three of them. The Jays now boast a top two-thirds of the lineup of: Springer, Bo Bichette, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernández, Cavan Biggio, and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. That’s, uh, scary.

The Red Sox, for their part, never seemed to be a likely destination for Springer, who on top of the big money also costs a draft pick. For Toronto, that is a first rounder, though for Boston it would have been a second rounder since their first pick is in the top ten. He would have been a fit, but on top of seemingly being averse to giving up that second rounder they also appear to be more focused on pure center fielders, with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar being the most likely targets. To me, the bigger impact here isn’t missing out on George Springer, it’s the fact that the Blue Jays are separating themselves into the top tier of the division, leaving the Red Sox alone, not quite in the Orioles tier but certainly not with the other three clubs either.

Blue Jays sign Kirby Yates

Springer was the big signing, but he was actually the second addition made by Toronto on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, they upgraded their bullpen with perhaps the best reclamation project at any position on the board, inking former Padres closer Kirby Yates to a one-year deal. The contract is worth a guaranteed $5.5 million with performance bonuses that can bring the total salary up to $10 million.

Just a couple of years ago Yates was in the conversation for best reliever in baseball. The veteran righty had two straight dominant seasons out in San Diego in 2018 and 2019, pitching to two straight sub-2.50 ERAs (including a 1.19 mark in 2019) with strikeout rates of 36 and 42 percent, and walk rates of six and five percent. Last season, however, Yates was hampered by injury. Thanks to bone chips in his throwing elbow, he tossed only 4 13 innings, and while he was still missing bats at a high rate his command was terrible in the small sample, walking four batters and allowing six earned runs. Toronto is hoping that was just a blip, and if they’re right this could pay huge dividends in their bullpen. Expect Yates to start the season as the closer.

Unlike Springer, who never felt realistic, this one could have been a Red Sox move. The guarantee is not very big, and the potential payoff is huge. Hell, for a team like the Red Sox there is a good argument they should be going for this kind of upside play over safety anyway. Worst case, he flames out again and they’re right back where they started. Best case, he bounces back and either helps lead them to a surprise postseason berth or becomes one of the biggest trade chips at the deadline. Instead, he’s another one that got away, and even worse he goes to a division rival.

Angels sign José Quintana

This one kind of flew under the radar because it came right on the heels of the Springer deal being reported, but the Angels added to their rotation on Tuesday as well. They grabbed a veteran lefty, José Quintana, after he had spent his entire career to this point in Chicago (for both the White Sox and Cubs). The southpaw got a one-year deal worth $8 million.

I’m not sure there’s such thing as a “safe” free agent pitcher, particularly on this market, but if there is Quintana is probably among the closest to fit the bill. He’s not the most underrated pitcher in baseball like he arguably was earlier in his career, but he still takes the ball every five days and is generally around a league-average pitcher. That’s certainly not going to blow anyone away, but there is value in that. It’s particularly valuable for a team like the Angels, who are in a similar position as Boston with a talented offense but very shallow pitching. They are still expected to be one of the top suitors for Trevor Bauer, and Quintana is a nice complement if they do indeed land the big fish.

As for the Red Sox, Quintana is not quite the big splash that would have transformed their rotation, but he would have been an upgrade. I have thought they could be well-served with one “safe” option on a short deal and then splurging a bit more for a higher profile option to slot in the top three of the rotation. Quintana would have been a more attractice Martín Pérez alternative, albeit for a couple million more dollars. Given the presumed self-imposed budget and the number of holes to fill, that couple million could go a long way in other spots. If they use that money to upgrade other spots, I’ll give them a pass. If not, this is another frustrating miss.