He has yet to spend a full summer and play a full season here in a city he has become fond of in his pro career.
But that didn’t stop George Springer from being a serious pitch man for both Toronto and a Blue Jays team he signed a long-term deal to help win a championship.
And imagine the possibilities if Springer could have helped close a deal that would have further strengthened the Jays?
The efforts came last winter when his former Houston Astros teammate, Justin Verlander, was pondering the next stop in his storied career and testing the free agent waters.
Turns out Verlander was seriously considering the Jays before ultimately opting to return to the Astros on a two-year, $50 million U.S. deal.
It wasn’t for a lack of marketing effort on Springer’s part, however. And for the longest time, it looked like the Jays had a serious shot at landing one of the most accomplished pitchers in the game.
“He had just asked me what’s it about? How is it? How do I like it?” Springer said in an interview prior to Friday’s first of three weekend games against the Yankees at the Rogers Centre. “He wanted me to give him my perspective, just because I’d known him for four or five years
“I know him pretty well and I told him what I thought and he ultimately decided to go back, but it’s all good.”
Not that Springer didn’t push, however.
Even though Verlander was coming off a missed year following Tommy John surgery after the 2020 season, indications were that he was going to strong enough to resume his elite form. And as superstar teammates, Springer is well aware of what Verlander adds.
“I was on his case,” said Springer, who was the 2017 World Series MVP when he teamed with Verlander (the ALCS MVP that year) to win the championship with the Astros. “I know who he is as a player. I know who he is as a person.
“He would have been a great addition to our team. But ultimately he went with what he felt would make him happy.”
Verlander’s flirtation with the Jays was revealed this week in a feature interview with ESPN’s Jeff Passan. In that piece, he acknowledged that the Jays were deep in the conversation as Verlander clearly had an appreciation for the upward trajectory of the retooled Toronto team.
“As negotiations started going (with the Astros), they kind of fell off,” Verlander told ESPN. “I would say that the leader was probably Toronto. They were great. And I talked to George a bunch.
“(The Jays) were very proactive to the point that when I signed with Houston, I made sure to let them know that I appreciated it all. Ultimately, when it came down to it, Houston has the same offer.
“It was all kind of ballpark between them and Toronto and New York (Yankees) was kind of always just a step behind.”
Of course, it’s not difficult to envision what the presence of Verlander could have meant to a Jays team that is in the midst of some challenges with its rotation. Even more so, considering that the accomplished right hander appears to be back to his stellar form and among the AL leaders in a number of statistical categories.
The Jays starters have not been a disaster by any means, but they also haven’t been the powerhouse many pegged them to be prior to the season. And the rotation is certainly an area GM Ross Atkins will address as the trade deadline approaches.
Ross Stripling got the ball for Friday’s context and over his previous two starts had emerged as a pleasant surprise while taking over the spot vacated by Hyun-Jin Ryu, who is lost for thee season due to injury.
On Sunday, it will be the wildly inconsistent Yusei Kikuchi on the mound for the Jays, a player that might not even have been acquired had Atkins landed the eight-time all star and two-time Cy Young Award winner Verlander.
And yes, at age 39 Verlander has been stellar, posting an 8-2 record with the Astros with a skimpy 1.94 ERA in his 12 starts.
And according to Springer, Verlander gave the Jays more than the passing free agent trying to drive up the market treatment. In the past, the two had shared their opinion of Toronto being one of their favourite road cities. Verlander, of course, was well aware of the Jays power-packed lineup.
“He was very honest about that with me,” Springer said. “He told me that this was a real option with him. He’s always loved it up here, him and his wife (super model, Kate Upton.) It would have been great to have him.
“But he went with what he felt would be the best thing for him and nobody will ever fault him for that.”
True, that. But for a rotation going through a rugged stretch — and facing a Yankees team threatening to run away with the American League East — it has to feel at least a little like Verlander was a big one that just got away.