TORONTO — Going through a rebuild can leave a clubhouse with a leadership void.
That’s not unusual.
During the lean years, there are usually three types of situations and players.
There are the outgoing veterans, either players expecting to be traded or just hanging on at the end of a career.
Then there are the short-term solutions, players brought in to bridge gaps and bide time until the youth of the rebuild starts to arrive.
Finally, of course, there are the young players that do arrive, wide-eyed and just trying to figure out their clubhouse surroundings and find immediate success on the field.
That’s been the Toronto Blue Jays over the past couple of years.
Luckily, the kids who did arrive were equipped with maturity beyond their years, time in big-league clubhouses alongside their fathers as kids, and were already used to things like dealing with the media and answering questions about the future or where things have gone wrong.
It always felt a little unfair to ask Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio to shoulder that load from day one, even though they’ve passed every test with flying colours and are both as impressive on the mic as they are as players.
But they’re still finding their way as young players, and George Springer’s presence and long-term commitment will ease that burden starting now, allowing the youth a little bit of leeway to focus on baseball.
For a close-to-home market comparison, he’s what the John Tavares addition was to the Maple Leafs.
Don’t get me wrong, Bichette and Biggio are important voices. And they want to be.
They just don’t have to be the voice anymore when inevitable team struggles arise and the unavoidable skids happen that come with a long, grinding 162-game schedule, especially one that comes with high expectations.
Springer has been through it all.
“As a manager, that’s what you want and most teams that have been in the playoffs and most good teams have those guys like that who can speak up for the clubhouse, speak up for the manager and everybody else,” Charlie Montoyo said Tuesday afternoon in Dunedin. “George will be one of those guys.”
We can pour over the statistics to project what Springer will bring in terms of Wins Above Replacement, on-base percentage, and how many home runs he’ll bash playing the majority of his games in tiny American League East ballparks.
But there’s no arguing the intangibles he brings, especially at this stage of this young team’s competitive window, are extremely important.
They’re what drew Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins and the front office to Springer and gave them the confidence to convince ownership that this was the guy worth the largest contract in franchise history.
Being the veteran voice of a team, the one who sits at the podium when they’ve dropped seven in a row and articulately answers why it’s happening and where things go from there isn’t for everyone.
Many don’t want anything to do with it, and that’s understandable.
Springer won’t shy away from that, mostly because he’s been through it all and learned from veteran voices who took that role early on during his seven big-league seasons in Houston.
From a 92-loss season as a rookie in 2014 to a World Series title in 2017 to a disappointing loss on the same stage in 2019 and then a sign-stealing scandal that followed, is there any tough question or situation Springer hasn’t been faced with?
The 31-year-old brings a lot to both the field and the clubhouse, but even he is just trying to go play baseball.
“I’m not going to put a finger on any one thing, I’m just going to try to do my job and help whichever way I can and, hopefully, lead by example,” Springer said Tuesday of what he’ll bring to this young Jays team on the second day of full team workouts. “Just go out and play as hard as I possibly can every single day and that’s understanding that I’m going to fail. Don’t try to do too much, don’t try to show emotion a lot, but you know what, just go out and have fun, enjoy the game and play how I want to play and play how I know how to play and we’ll see what happens.”
What usually happens for Springer is his team makes the playoffs and plays deep into October.
He’s missed the postseason just twice in seven seasons.
What also happens, is Springer produces when he gets there.
His .269/.349/.546 slash line with 19 homers across 63 games is evidence of that.
Many of his 34 extra-base hits have come at key times, too. Not that there’s ever a non-key time in October.
“A lot of people tend to put a lot of emphasis on stats and all that stuff and in my opinion, in the playoffs, stats don’t matter — it’s about a win or a loss,” said Springer, the 11th overall pick in the 2011 draft out of UConn. “At that moment in time, just slow yourself and try to do whatever the game says and, honestly, whatever happens, happens and you move on.”
Even though the Jays tasted the postseason for the first time last October in the expanded format, Springer is battle tested in every sense of the imagination.
“That experience is going to be huge — he knows,” Montoyo said. “He knows what it takes for a team to get to October. And then when we’re in October, to see how he does and to see these kids follow his lead because he’s been there and he’s done great on that stage.”
This is where the expectations sit for the Blue Jays these days and how much things have changed in a year.
It’s February and everybody is talking about October.
For now, Springer is just trying to get acclimated.
He admitted it does feel a bit strange to be in new surroundings.
“It does, you know?” Springer said. “I’ve only known one thing for pretty my whole life. I’ve only known the stuff in Houston. I love those guys, but I’m here now. It’s a new opportunity for me. I’m enjoying this, it’s been fun. It’s only been three, four days but to be out here and really kind of enjoy being around guys I know already and have actually played with, and then to meet guys and walk around the complex and see what it’s all about, it’s fun for me.”
That’s the thing with Springer.
He’s rode the wave during the many highs of his career, but also experienced the lows when expectations aren’t met.
That will benefit everyone involved in the end and the leadership and professionalism he brings is a big part of why he got $150 million.