Thursday, 5 January 2012

An In-Depth Look at Extending Brandon Morrow

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With the Blue Jays offseason in a bit of a slump and the Darren Oliver signing being the most exciting thing at the moment, I found myself having to write about something different. Rather than speculating on Garza rumours or a possible (I use that term loosely) Prince Fielder signing, I have come to the realization that other than the occasional non-consequential signing the Jays likely won't do much in terms of roster changes this offseason. Instead they will likely stick to their plan of building from within and then keeping the talent in the organization. Up to this point the latter half of the plan has only needed to be addressed to a small extent, but now with young talented players like Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus, and the centre of this writing piece Brandon Morrow all possibly needing extensions, Alex Anthopoulos definitely has his work cut out for him.

Morrow as most of you probably know was traded to the Blue Jays from the Mariners in December 2009 for right handed reliever Brandon League. Seattle had drafted Morrow in the 2006 draft with presumably the intention of making him their closer. At the time this seemed fine as Morrow had the velocity and plus pitch that you traditionally look for in a closer, but as time went on the Seattle front office and coaching staff created some kinks in Morrow's development. These kinks being that towards the end of the 2008 season, the Mariners decided that they would begin to move Morrow to the starting rotation and out of a relief role, utilizing the ole Earl Weaver strategy.

Long story short Morrow's stints as a starter didn't turn out as expected and it resulted in the Mariners demotion of him to AAA as well as the multiple changes between roles in the starting rotation and the bullpen. Due to this Morrow began to become a "change of scenary" for Seattle in the sense that he didn't need to be traded, but would likely have trouble succeeding in Seattle organization through the development process they had created. Ultimately all of this hoopla turned out well, for the Jays at least, as it led to the trade that landed them Morrow in 2009. Reports initially coming from the Blue Jays organization subsequent to the trade suggested that they intended on using Morrow exclusively in the starting rotation, giving Morrow a clean slate to work on.

Now what does all this mean and why is it at all important to a possible contract extension. Well if you simply look at Brandon Morrow's service time and age you would see that he is heading in to his second year of arbitration and is eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. But if you take into account the time that Morrow spent with the Mariners and how he was never really used as a full time starter there, then Morrow is in some sense of the word a third year player.

In terms of the actual contract extension this means that rather than the negotiations acting as if Morrow is a guy with 4 years of service time, Anthopoulos could make the argument that Morrow is really just a third year player coming off his sophmore season. I'm sure Morrow's agent would have something to say about that, but it would be a good argument for Anthopoulos to make. If that is the route that Anthopoulos takes I'm sure guys like Jon Lester, Yovani Gallardo, Ricky Romero, and Jaime Garcia would come up in terms of comparable contracts, all of which signed for around 5 years and $30 million.

Now obviously it is quite unreasonable to expect Morrow to take that type of contract when MLBTR already projects him to make $4.2 million in arbitration this year. Instead I'm sure Morrow's agent will come back comparing Brandon Morrow to the recently extended John Danks and rightfully so. Danks signed an extension for 5 years and $65 million with the Chicago White Sox this offseason. Had he not signed the extension, Danks would have been eligible for free agency after the 2012 season one year before Brandon Morrow.

The Danks comp likely to be brought up would be interesting as Danks and Morrow are very similar but different at the same time. They are similar in the sense that both players are in their fifth year in the MLB and close to free agency, but due to time spent in the minors Morrow has one less year of service time and 3 less years of full time starting experience. Other than that one similarity they are pretty different in their execution, but both have been good starters over the last three years. Danks has the higher fWAR in the last three seasons, due in large part to a higher innings count. He also holds a lead in the traditional stats like ERA and Wins, which often increase arbitration and sometimes free agency earnings. Though on the other side Morrow holds a firm lead in his K% as well as the more sabrmetric and predictive stats such as FIP, xFIP, and SIERA. (Customized FanGraphs stats table here)

What this all boils down to is that in the end Morrow will likely get a lot less guaranteed money than John Danks, but also significantly more than Ricky Romero. Danks' contract is worth about $65 million and Romero's is worth $30.1 million, it seems like such a simple-minded way to do it, but if you take the average of those two contracts it is about $47.5 million over 5 years. If there is to be a $47.5 million dollar extension proposed, I'm thinking it will probably work out something like this...

If you look at the layout of the proposed contract, depending on how good they think Brandon Morrow really is, the contract seems to work out for both sides. Morrow gets some added financial security and the Blue Jays get 3 years of Brandon Morrow's free agency at a reasonable price with a chance at quite a bit of upside. Using the current assumption of approximately $5 million = 1 WAR we can figure that for Morrow to be worth the contract extension he only needs to produce 1.9 WAR per year. If we use FanGraphs version of WAR we see that over his past two years as a starter Brandon Morrow has averaged 3.5 WAR per season, far and above the value he would need to provide in order to fulfill the proposed contract extension.

Even if we use the less optimistic Baseball Reference version of WAR we can see that over the past two years Morrow has averaged 1.5 WAR. Then using Sky Kalkman's WAR Spreadsheet, we can figure out how much Morrow has to improve to fulfill his contract. As expressed in the first table over the course of his contract Morrow has to be worth an average of 1.9 WAR per year. In the past two years Morrow hasn't been at that mark, but if you take his average ERA from the past two years and then assume a steady innings increase you get a total of 11.0 WAR, which is still 1.5 WAR in surplus value. Even if you assume that he misses some time to injury, Morrow would still have to miss roughly 140 innings over the course of the contract, which isn't unprecedented, just to be worth the 0.1 WAR less than the value of the contract.

Finally if you at all believe that Brandon Morrow will reach his "potential" that predictive stats such as his 3.51 xFIP or 3.31 SIERA over the past two years indicate, then that is all just added value. If you believe that over the course of his contract that Morrow will match his xFIP (top half of the table below) with the same innings counts as in the above table then he will be worth approximately 24.8 WAR, which is 15.3 wins of added value. Then if you are a real dreamer and believe that Morrow can match his SIERA (bottom half of the table below) he will be worth about 27.6 WAR, which is 18.1 wins in surplus value.

Of course almost all of this is speculative research and depends quite a bit on Morrow accepting a contract similar to the 5 year $47.5 million dollar contract proposed earlier, but the contract at least in my opinion seems pretty fair and through this has a very good chance of providing surplus value. Though as I stated there is always the chance that Morrow would turn down that contract as he has been known to follow some sabrmetric stats or as he calls them "nerd" stats. He may feel like he has more potential to outperform this contract, but financial security is always nice too, especially for a pitcher. Then there is also the off chance that the Blue Jays organization feels like he isn't even worth the proposed amount. Whatever it is we as fans can only hope that at some point Brandon Morrow reaches his "potential" and doesn't just become one of those players with the great peripheral stats, who never lives up to them.

The Anthopoulos regime has been good with extensions thus far after handing them out to players such as Jose Bautista, Ricky Romero, and Yunel Escobar, we can only hope that the Jays front office continues the trend going forward. With Brandon Morrow and whatever other young cost controllable player the Blue Jays acquire.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to express your thoughts
 in the comments section below

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  1. I think he would take it but I'm not sure its a done deal so to speak, as well I'm sure you are right that Anthopoulos will find some way to add some options, but it may be difficult if you look at what pitchers are getting these days on the open market, I don't see why Morrow couldn't get an AAV of $12 mil in his free agency years he's a good pitcher and still has potential despite his olderish age

  2. Morrow would jump at a contract like that.

    Look for him to be signed for either considerably less, or with plenty of option years to reduce the risk factor for the Jays.

  3. Thanks for this very informative article. I can see another option to arb Morrow at $4 million'ish for 2012 and look to mid-season for an extension. The timeframe allows the Jays time to assess its minor league SP's. Should they have a player to call up and Alvarez or Drabek advance, then I would question the need for a 5 year term. Another half year also brings the service time closer to Danks. The 2013 proposed $11 million is significantly higher than Romero which is problematic as he has a proven #1 track record.

  4. I like the prospect of giving Morrow a 5-6 year extension, but the duration scares me a little bit. With his history of injuries and considering the Blue Jays are still trying to stretch him out to 200+ innings, I don't know if AA would be willing to go that long. They should at least buy out the final two years of arbitration and tack on a couple of option years just in case.

  5. IMO he's worth it.

  6. Honestly i dont think Morrow would get what you proposed here. He is not established in the MLB yes the advanced numbers like him, but in traditional stats like ERA Wins (which i think teams look at) he is not even close to guys like Romero, Lester etc. I dont mind the duration of the deal just less money IMO. Maybe a 5yr 20-25 mill would be more likey.

  7. Don't forget that if his price tag gets too high he will then cost a team their first round pick (or do free agents have to be ranked a certain way? I currently understand the rules to state that if you pay more than a certain amount (12 mil?) you lose your first round pick to the other team).

    I think it's best for the Jays to wait and see. It may be that him leaving and getting a first round pick might be good for the team if the up-and-coming starters live up to their perceived potential.

  8. If you don't believe in the advanced stats then maybe you known the contract down a bit, but the one you prosposed would be comparable to what Scott Downs got and a guy who throws 175+ innings is much more valuable than a guy who only throws <100

  9. If I'm not mistaken it is that the Jays would get a first round pick if the average annual value exceeds 12.5 million, which could very well happen if they don't extend Morrow as well as if they do.

    Because Morrow would have a chance to eclipse 12.5 million in AAV even at age 32, granted a much smaller chance but it could happen

  10. I agree with you in the sense that it is definitely a risk and he could quite possibly never at all become what we hope he can be. With that said though I still think it is a risk worth taking especially while his value is low.

    Some are on the side that the Jays should wait for Morrow to improve before giving him such a contract, but IMO I'd rather they took the risk now rather than later. If he does improve at all he could be in store for a much bigger payday.

    Of course there is definite arguments for both sides, maybe I'm just more optimistic that Morrow will reach his potential.

    Either way whether he reaches his potential or not I hope the Jays somewhat stick to their word and keep their players rather than letting them go off to free agency, I think it would send a good message and they definitely need that.

  11. 3yr, 20m contract + 2 options. What do you think of that proposal?

  12. That sounds perfect if Anthopoulos could get Morrow to accept it, also sounds pretty similar to what I proposed which if you make the last 2 years options then it is 3 years 22.5 million

    Again sounds like a great price, just not sure it will happen

  13. RE the first half of your comment I believe that a team must sign Morrow to a contract that is over 12.5 million in AAV in order to obtain a first round pick.

    He could probably do that at 29, but he could also possibly get 12.5 in AAV at 32 depending on how he progresses. Obviously there is a much smaller chance, but it could happen.

    As for the second half all I'd say is you address that problem when it comes, having too many pitchers isn't a bad thing, just look at the Braves theyre in good shape

  14. Remembering that he is projected to get over 4 million in arbitration after what he did this year Morrow won't ever agree to 20 million for 3 years (tjbfan) even though I feel he's worth closer to that. I truly believe Morrow's headed to free agentcy as AA seems intent on only giving team friendly contracts and Morrow has the ability ( lots of k's and high 90's fastball to get a big contract ) similar to a guy like AJ Burnett. I feel Brandon's headed to a kinda breakout season after his let 3 starts and the change in philosophy towards his pitch effort during games. I think he'll have a monster 1st half and slump a bit in the 2nd but that should be enough for him to match what the cardinal's Edwin Jackson demands are ( with much better stuff to his pitches ) but we still got 2 years left on him at least and if the Jays can improve next year maybe some of that promised money can be used to sign him then.

  15. Your welcome and Thanks for reading. Also regarding the log jam that you are thinking might happen, you can never really have too many pitchers they get injured and often you need more pitchers not less.

  16. I suppose that also assumes that the number for giving up a pick stays at 12.5 million. It would be fair to assume that number would go up and leave Morrow slightly out of range, meaning the Jays would lose him for nothing.

    I would like to see Morrow put up a decent season before guaranteeing a 3 year plus options extension.

  17. I think a 3 year $20 million, with a $10M option for a fourth year would get the deal done.

    Please ignore the date I posted this comment, it was actually 5 days earlier