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José Berríos changed his mind.

The starter was a year away from free agency, able to enter the open market in his prime after six years of top production, health, and consistency.

It's something every player works towards, Berríos admitted—the big contract, complete control, wooed by every organization with a need. Sitting on stage at the first in-person Rogers Centre press conference in the masked era, Berríos declined that opportunity. Mere months in the Toronto Blue Jays organization and $131 million altered his plans.

"I just spent two months [as a Blue Jay]," Berríos said. "That was enough to make this decision."

Alongside relief pitcher Joakim Soria, Berríos entered the Rogers Centre basement in the final hours of July 31, 2021. His arrival emphasized a weekend of bustle for the Blue Jays—returning to Toronto, acquiring three pitchers at the trade deadline, and beginning a push towards the postseason. Berríos pitched twice before at Rogers Centre before he stepped onto the turf on that Saturday night, but the next day he'd put on the blue and white for the first time.

That night, Berríos was greeted by Manager Charlie Montoyo, a fellow Puerto Rican who had lingered at the ballpark playing drums in his office, and a few of his teammates—who he now calls his brothers after inking a seven-year extension. They didn't know it, but every moment and Blue Jay interaction slowly began to change Berríos' mind—building towards Thursday's announcement. 

Over the next two months, Berríos met every person in the Blue Jays clubhouse, he said, and the organization gave him the security and resources to become a better person, better player, and better teammate. Berríos joined a team with a Puerto Rican manager and third-base coach in Luis Rivera, but he also joined “La Gente Del Barrio”—a group compiled of Americans, Dominicans, Canadians, Koreans, and more—a group of humans, Berríos said.

"We are persons," Berríos said. "Wherever we came from we are a person. We are human, we have to love each other."

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Berríos became to believe in the team and the organization, he said, and Toronto rattling off a 39-23 record after acquiring the righty from Minnesota probably didn't hurt. But, Berríos was wowed by the city, too. Berríos remarked at Toronto's restaurant scene, able to go and get great food on any off day. But, like within the Blue Jays' organization, what stood out to him was Toronto's diversity. 


The 27-year-old starter took a moment during his press conference, inhaling as tears collected in his eyes. Berríos looked down to his daughter in the first row, nodding as she gave him encouraging hand gestures to carry on.

Thursday's press conference was the first time Berríos' children had ever been to Toronto. Because of an expired passport, only Berrios' wife, Jannieliz Márquez, could travel into Canada last season, spending a few weeks in the city. They felt comfortable, Berríos said, able to have fun and enjoy the "worldly city." Most importantly, Márquez thought their three kids would enjoy it, too.

"Here we can be human," Berríos said. "We can go out there and feel safe."

The Blue Jays presented further safety and security to Berríos and his family with a call to the starter's agent after the 2021 season—one of the first calls they made, per GM Ross Atkins. The dialogue started after the Blue Jays acquired Berríos at the deadline for top prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, but momentum grew towards a deal after the season. Atkins believed all along Berríos would "align" with the Blue Jays' organizational principles, the environment, and the city of Toronto—and he did. The final obstacle was aligning on value.

Berríos made it clear with the Twins he'd been waiting for free agency and the ability to maximize his value. Minnesota Chief Baseball Officer Derek Falvey said earlier this offseason free agency was something he felt Berríos would "want to see through." Two months with Toronto and up to $141 million convinced him otherwise.

Intentional or not, every little interaction after Berríos came to Toronto helped change the starter's mind. After adding him to a growing core with playoff aspirations, the next step is filling in the gaps. With pieces like Berríos committed long term, convincing others to join may only get easier.

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