TORONTO — Shortstop Bo Bichette has big expectations for the upgraded Toronto Blue Jays.
“I believe in the team, just like I did last year,” Bichette said Monday as the Blue Jays held their first full-squad workout in Dunedin, Florida. “Obviously we added some new names.”
“I think this year, if we go home without a trophy, that’ll be disappointing,” he said.
Toronto was among the busiest teams on the free-agent market, agreeing to a $150 million, six-year contract with outfielder George Springer; an $18 million, one-year contract with shortstop Marcus Semien; a $5.5 million, one-year deal with right-hander Kirby Yates; a $3 million, one-year contract with right-hander Tyler Chatwood and a $1.75 million, one-year contract with right-hander David Phelps.
“We’re very excited, we all believe in ourselves, and we believe that we can play with the best teams,” Bichette said.
Semien said he’s already impressed by the winning attitude at camp.
“There’s a level of confidence I’m excited about,” he said. “We’re going to get better as time goes on but I like where we’re starting.”
The Blue Jays went 32-28 last season, finishing third in the AL East behind Tampa Bay and the Yankees and qualifying for the expanded 16-team post-season.
Back in the playoffs for the first time in four years, Toronto was swept in two games by the AL champion Rays in a first-round series.
Springer was a perennial playoff performer in Houston, helping the Astros win their first-ever World Series in 2017. He was MVP of that seven-game victory over the Los Angeles Dodegrs.
“He’s put up some crazy numbers on the biggest stage in the game and that’s what it’s about,” Bichette said. “When we make the playoffs, if we make the playoffs, we’ll be able to watch him and see how he goes about his business.”
Bichette had an explosive debut with Toronto after being called up July 29, 2019, collecting 13 extra base hits in his first 11 games and becoming the first rookie since Ted Williams to record extra-base hits in nine straight games.
Bichette, who turns 23 next month, hit .301 with five home runs and 23 RBIs in 29 games last year during the virus-shortened season. He missed some time with a knee sprain.
Manager Charlie Montoyo views Bichette as a future All-Star.
“He’s got confidence and he knows he’s a winner,” Montoyo said. “He’s going to help us win a lot of games just because he’s got that.”
Even so, the Blue Jays pursued a trade for shortstop Francisco Lindor over the winter, but the former Cleveland star ended up with the New York Mets. Toronto eventually signed Semien, who played shortstop with Oakland but is expected to play second base with the Blue Jays, something the team made sure Bichette understood right away.
“I was called the minute that they reached an agreement (with Semien), basically to tell me before the news came out that I was still playing shortstop,” Bichette said.
On the same day Padres star Fernando Tatis finalized his $340-million, 14-year deal, Bichette said he and the Blue Jays discussed a potential long-term contract over the winter, but no formal offer was ever made.
“I’m open but obviously there’s more important things at hand,” Bichette said. “I would rather focus on spring training, the season ahead, but we’ll see what happens.”
Unable to play in Canada because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Blue Jays will play their first two homestands of the regular season at their spring training facility in Dunedin, just a few miles from where Bichette grew up and went to high school in St. Petersburg.
“Obviously we all would much rather be in Toronto” Bichette said. “For me, personally, I guess it’s the best of the worst-case scenario to be home, be in a comfortable spot.”
A return north of the border would be made easier by widespread vaccinations of players and team officials. So far, however, Bichette said the Blue Jays have not discussed a team-wide vaccination program. Even he hasn’t decided whether or not to get vaccinated.
“We’ll see,” Bichette said. “I don’t have enough data on it but I’ll look at the data and figure out if it’s good for me or not.”
Bichette’s father Dante, who hit 274 home runs over 14 big league seasons, was a member of Toronto’s coaching staff in 2020 but has stepped back from that role this year and is now a special assistant.
“It was a family decision,” the younger Bichette said. “I think my dad has been through the grind enough. I think he forgot what it was like to be in the clubhouse every single day.”
Also Monday, the Boston Red Sox claimed right-hander Joel Payamps off waivers from the Blue Jays. Toronto had claimed Payamps on waivers from Boston on Feb. 10.
Ian Harrison, The Associated Press