Comfortable Berríos skips free agency to stay with Blue Jays

National Sports

José Berríos, right, speaks during a press conference announcing his seven-year extension with the Toronto Blue Jays, alongside Ross Atkins, executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Thursday, Nov. 18, 2021. (Tijana Martin/The Canadian Press via AP)

TORONTO (AP) — Two months with the Toronto Blue Jays was enough to make José Berríos change his mind about waiting one more year to reach free agency.

Berríos finalized a $131 million, seven-year deal to stay with the Blue Jays on Thursday, passing up the opportunity to become a free agent next offseason.

A two-time All Star, the 27-year-old right=hander said his decision was simplified by getting a brief experience of life in Toronto after the Blue Jays acquired him from Minnesota on July 30.

“That was enough to make this decision because of the way they treated me, the nice welcome they gave me,” Berríos said. “The way I spent my last two months of the season here made it more easy and comfortable to make this decision.”

He gets a $5 million signing bonus, half payable on Jan. 31 and the rest on April 30. Berríos receives salaries of $10 million next season, $15 million in 2023, $17 million in 2024, $18 million each in 2025 and ‘26, and $24 million both in 2027 and ’28.

Berríos can opt out after the 2026 season to become a free agent, giving up $48 million over the final two seasons.

He has up to $5 million in escalators for 2027 and ’28 that he can earn in 2025 and ’26: $1 million each for 300 and 350 innings combined and $500,000 apiece for 375 and 400. He also would earn $2 million for a Cy Young Award in each of those years, $1.5 million for second through fifth in the voting and $750,000 for sixth through 10th.

Berríos went 5-4 with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts with Toronto, finishing 12-9 with a 3.52 ERA. The Blue Jays won 91 games, finishing one victory shy of a tie for a wild card berth in the competitive AL East.

An invigorated Berríos made it clear he didn’t want to fall short again in 2022.

“I can promise we’re going to do a lot of good things for the city,” he said. “We’re going to have a lot of fun.”

Berríos struck out a career-high 204 batters over 192 innings in 2021. He is 60-47 with a 4.04 ERA in six big league seasons.

Berríos said his wife visited him in Toronto after he was traded last summer, but said his three kids hadn’t visited their new home until the deal was reached.

“They love the city,” he said. “They ask me every day if we’re going to play tonight.”

Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins said Berríos has “one of the best reputations in baseball,” adding the contract represents “a very big moment for this organization.

“Beyond that talent and that competitiveness and execution that you see on the field is one of the best human beings in the game,” Atkins said of Berríos. “That is extremely powerful for this organization, what that means for players who will be his teammates today and in the future.”

Atkins said the Blue Jays started laying the groundwork for discussions on a new contract before the end of the regular season.

“When the season ended, it was one of the first phone calls we made,” Atkins said.

Berríos, who is from Puerto Rico, was taken 32nd overall by the Twins in the 2012 amateur draft. He has never been on the injured list in his six-year career, making 32 starts in each of the past three full seasons.

Atkins praised Berríos for being “as consistent as any professional athlete in the world.”

“The dependability, the reliability of someone like José is exceptionally powerful,” Atkins said. “We obviously value that a great deal.”

This is the third $100 million-plus deal in Blue Jays history and the second in as many winters — Toronto signed outfielder George Springer to a $150 million, six-year contract last offseason.

Still, Atkins insisted that signing Berríos would not prevent Toronto from pursuing other free agents, including left-hander Robbie Ray, who won the AL Cy Young Award with the Blue Jays this season, and slugging infielder Marcus Semien.

“We are committed to continue to build upon that core,” Atkins said.

Outfielder Vernon Wells and the Blue Jays agreed to a $126 million, seven-year contract in 2006.

By pairing veterans such as Springer and Berríos alongside exciting young sluggers Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, Atkins said the emerging Blue Jays have seen a change in the way they’re perceived among free agents.

“Now we’re feeling like key players are courting us as much as we’re courting players,” Atkins said.

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AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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