Ricky Romero, Jon Lester & Yovani Gallardo

Technically, the Blue Jays entered uncharted territory today. They committed more money ($30.1MM) to Ricky Romero than any team has ever committed to a pitcher with less than two years of service time. But in reality, the extension is all about precedent.

“It’s all about comparables and comparable deals and what else has been done,” Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said this evening, comparing Romero to Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester and Brewers right-hander Yovani Gallardo.

Both Lester ($30MM) and Gallardo ($30.1MM) signed deals worth virtually the same amount as Romero’s. The three extensions cover the exact same five seasons (one year of pre-arbitration, three arbitration seasons and one free agent season) and all include $13MM team options for the players’ second free agent years. It would be hard to construct three more similar contracts.

And it would be hard to find three more similar pitchers. If you compare Romero to Lester and Gallardo at the time they signed their respective contracts, you notice striking similarities. All three had made between 52 and 59 starts, posted ERAs between 3.57 and 3.94, allowed between 28 and 33 homers and walked between 134 and 141 batters. All three were selected within the first two rounds of the amateur draft and all three were 24 or 25 when they agreed to their respective deals.

There are differences, of course. Gallardo is right-handed and walks and strikes out more batters than the two lefties. Lester and Gallardo missed time early in their careers, whereas Romero has been fully healthy. Anthopoulos realizes the inherent risk of committing tens of millions to a pitcher, but says Romero has the stuff to improve over the course of the deal.

“You always have concerns when you make a commitment,”  Anthopoulos said. “What the reaction might be on the part of the player, but we see a guy like Ricky continuing to improve. We think he’s going to be an innings eater, we think he’s going to be a horse [and] we think he’s going to continue to evolve.”

There's no question that Lester and Gallardo have continued evolving since signing their contracts. Lester has improved his strikeout rate since signing his extension two offseasons ago. And Gallardo, who signed his contract this April, leads the National League in strikeout rate and is on pace to post the lowest full-season ERA of his career. The Blue Jays hope and believe Romero will develop, but they won’t be disappointed if he keeps pitching the way he has.

“Even if there wasn’t much improvement or any at all,” Anthopoulos said. “We think what he’s doing right now [is good enough]. He’s had a tremendous year for us.”

The deal is designed to save the Blue Jays money in arbitration and keep Romero in Toronto for what the Jays expect to be his prime years. Even though Romero wasn’t going to hit the open market until four winters from now, the contract is all about market value. If Romero pitches like Gallardo and Lester, the deal will be a win and if he misses extended periods of time with injuries it will be a loss. Until then, it’s neither an overpay nor a discount.

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