Brandon Morrow hasn't quite taken the big step towards ace-hood that the Blue Jays were hoping he would take this season, but the right-hander has still has a very solid 2011 campaign. Morrow has a league-leading 10.5 K/9 ratio, a 3.16 K/BB rate and a somewhat misleading 4.51 ERA (his xFIP is just 3.24) in 20 starts for the Jays.
With Jose Bautista, Ricky Romero, Adam Lind and Yunel Escobar all locked up in multiyear deals, it stands to reason that Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos may turn to Morrow as the next key part of the Jays' future to receive a contract extension. Morrow, who turned 27 last month, earned $2.3MM this year and has two more arbitration years before being eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.
Morrow's unusual career path could be a factor in helping the Jays get a relative bargain in an extension. He was primarily used as a reliever in Seattle for the first three years of his career, which depresses his career numbers in the eyes of an arbiter. Also hurting Morrow is the fact that as of today, his career record (26-25) is barely over the .500 mark and his career high in innings pitched is the 146 1/3 frames he posted last year.
Combine this with his injury history (a few minor arm-related stints on the DL) and the Blue Jays hold all the cards in extension negotiations. In fact, all of these factors might even convince the Jays to wait another year to see what they really have in the right-hander. The club could be content to sign Morrow to a one-year deal for 2012 worth between $4-4.5MM and then look into an extension if he blossoms in 2013.
If an extension did happen this winter, however, a fair number would be a three-year deal worth $19MM, broken down as $4MM in 2012, $6MM in 2013 and $9MM to cover Morrow's first free agent year in 2014. Knowing Anthopoulos' history, such an extension would certainly include at least one option year, perhaps an $11MM team option for 2015. Provided that option year was picked up, Morrow would be a free agent at age 31 -- still young enough to score a big contract on the open market.
It was one year ago today that Morrow delivered his 17-strikeout, near no-hitter against the Rays. Given the hype and promise that surrounded Morrow after that masterpiece, a three-year/$19MM extension seems a bit low for a pitcher with his potential. Morrow himself might prefer to take the risk and only look for a long-term deal once he's established himself as a reliable, upper-tier pitcher. Then again, given Anthopoulos' already-impressive history of making team-friendly deals, it wouldn't be a surprise if Toronto struck while it had the advantage and ended up with a future ace at a discount price.