Sports·The Buzzer

Why George Springer is such a big get for the Blue Jays

CBC Sports' daily newsletter breaks down the record-setting deal Toronto gave free agent George Springer, and after a 17-year career Philip Rivers has retired from the NFL.

The price tag is huge, but he makes a promising team better right away

George Springer was named MVP of the 2017 World Series after hitting five homers in seven games. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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Here's what you need to know right now from the world of sports:

The Blue Jays gave out their richest contract ever

Toronto has lured centre-fielder George Springer away from the Houston Astros with a six-year agreement reportedly worth $150 million US. Here are the key things to know about Springer and the deal, which is awaiting a physical to become official:

This is the largest contract in Blue Jays history. The only other one to hit nine figures was the seven-year, $126-million extension signed by Vernon Wells in December 2006. The previous Jays record for a free agent was the $82 million given to Canadian catcher Russell Martin before the 2015 season. At $25 million per year, Springer's average annual pay eclipses that of pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu, who signed for $20 million a year for four years last off-season.

But this isn't the biggest free-agent signing in Jays history. In terms of sheer "Holy s---! I gotta tell everyone I know!" impact, that would be the Roger Clemens deal in December of '96. The four-year, $40-million pact worked out pretty well too, at least to start. Clemens won the Cy Young in his only two seasons with the Jays before demanding a trade. The signings of Jack Morris (two years, $10.85 million before the '92 season) and Paul Molitor (three years, $13 million prior to '93) were also very big at the time and helped propel the Jays to World Series titles.

Springer was one of the top free agents on the market. This list on MLB.com ranked him third, behind Philly catcher J.T. Realmuto and Cincy pitcher Trevor Bauer. Not the greatest class, but Toronto can say it got the best non-battery player available.

Springer is a very good player. His best years were 2017 and '19, when he averaged about 36 homers and an OPS+ of 145 — meaning his on-base-plus-slugging percentage was 45 per cent better than the average hitter's in his league when adjusted for ballpark. He hit well in the shortened 2020 season too, smashing 14 homers in 51 games with an OPS+ of 140. Springer was named the MVP of the 2017 World Series after hitting five home runs in seven games vs. the Dodgers. The Astros won that year with the help of their infamous signal-stealing scheme that allowed them to tip off their hitters about what kind of pitch was coming.

He's a bit old, though. Six years is a lot to commit to a 31-year-old, so the Jays might end up regretting the last few years of the deal. But that's the price teams usually have to pay to land a player of this calibre.

The Springer signing adds excitement to an already-promising Jays team. Last year's post-season appearance may have been a pandemic-induced fluke — as much a product of the shortened season and expanded playoff field as the actual skill on Toronto's roster. A (presumed) return to a full 162-game regular season would probably benefit stronger-looking AL East rivals New York and Tampa Bay, and another 16-team playoff tournament is unlikely. But baseball seems interested in expanding from the old 10-team field, which would give the Jays more hope of making it through their tough division. And Springer joins a talented lineup of hitters whose returning core — Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio, Teoscar Hernández, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. — are all currently between the ages of 22 and 28. If the pitching can just not be a trainwreck again (prospect Nate Pearson might help there) this team has a lot of upside.

The Blue Jays' prized free agent signing joins a budding young core ready to take the next step. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press)

Quickly...

The Calgary ski and snowboard bubble burst. The plan, announced two weeks ago, was to hold the world championships for freestyle skiing and snowboarding there in February and March. Some World Cup competitions were also part of the pitch, which was awaiting approval from various authorities. But the world governing body for skiing and snowboarding decided today to pull the plug on the idea, with the backing of the Canadian federations for those sports. Read more about the decision here.

The NHL postponed two more Hurricanes games. Five Carolina players have been placed on the league's COVID-19 protocol list, resulting in the postponement of last night's game at Nashville and now a pair of home dates vs. Florida on Thursday and Saturday. These are the first three games to be postponed since the NHL season began. Dallas' first few games were postponed before the season started. Read more about the Carolina outbreak here.

Marielle Thompson won another medal. Today's silver in Sweden is the 2014 Olympic ski cross champion's 45th career World Cup podium spot. This one came in a "sprint" event, where the course is shorter than the standard one. Read more about it and watch highlights here.

Tiger Woods needed another back surgery. This makes five, and it'll keep the 45-year-old out for at least the PGA Tour's West Coast Swing, which starts this week and runs through Feb. 21. The operation was to remove a disc fragment that Woods said caused him pain during the event he played with his 11-year-old son last month. Tiger's friend and fellow tour star Rory McIlroy said he thinks Woods will be out of action "for the next couple of months" but will return in time for the April 8-11 Masters "if not before that." Read more about Tiger's latest setback here.

Also...

Philip Rivers retired.

He never made it to a Super Bowl, and he didn't make it look pretty, but the fiery Alabaman owns one of the best quarterback resumés ever. Rivers' awful-looking, shot put-style throwing motion should not have worked in the NFL. But he overcame it (and then some) with supreme accuracy and a savant's understanding of how to attack defences. He spent 17 years in the NFL (all but the last one with the Chargers) and ranks eighth in wins and fifth in completions, yards passing and touchdown passes.

Two other numbers essential to the Rivers story: nine (how many kids he has) and zero (how many games he missed after becoming an NFL starter in 2006). Rivers played his only conference championship game on a torn ACL on Jan. 20, 2008 — one of the reasons he chose today to announce his retirement with a charmingly down-home statement that included the word "dadgummit." Read more about Rivers' career here.

And finally…

Donald Trump isn't the only polarizing Republican we'll be hearing less from now.

As the 45th President left the White House today, Kelly Loeffler also appeared set to vacate her most public-facing roles. The pro-Trump U.S. Senator recently lost her seat to Raphael Warnock in one of the two high-profile Georgia run-offs that resulted in Democrats grabbing control of the Senate. As Warnock was sworn in today, a sale of the Atlanta Dream was being finalized that would presumably see Loeffler give up her 49 per cent stake in the WNBA team.

If that goes through, it will fulfill the wish of the WNBA players who openly campaigned for Warnock and called for Loeffler to sell her piece of the Dream after she criticized the league for embracing the Black Lives Matter movement. Read more about Loeffler's potential departure from the league here.

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