Brandon Morrow and Casey Janssen were the two players that failed to agree with the Blue Jays on a 2012 contract prior to last week’s arbitration deadline, but with Morrow’s three-year extension in the books, Janssen remains the last man standing. He and the Jays still sit $400,000 apart on a 2012 contract, as the right-hander filed a $2.2 million figure and the Jays countered with $1.8 million.
According to GM Alex Anthopoulos’ arbitration policy, since the deadline has passed, the two parties are set for an arbitration hearing providing they do not work out a multiyear deal. Anthopoulos, familiar with this scenario, faced an identical situation with Jason Frasor last year before the two sides eventually agreed on a one-year contract with a club option for the following year.
That is, however, a route that Anthopoulos should also take with Janssen, who should not only be one of the bullpen’s best relievers in 2012, but more effective than the Jays’ latest free agent signing, Francisco Cordero.
Coming off his second consecutive strong season, Janssen is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Adding a club option poses no risk to the team and would keep the right-hander with the Jays for an additional season at a cost-effective salary.
Janssen’s had an interesting career with the Jays. On top of flip-flopping between starting and relieving, he missed the entire 2008 season due to injury. At the start of the 2010 season, it was decided that he’d operate exclusively out of the bullpen, and he went on to have a solid year with a clearly defined relief role. Now, with the 2011 season in the books, he certainly built on his successful 2010 campaign and managed the best season of his career.
In 55 games and 55.2 innings for the Jays this season, Janssen set a new career-lows with a 2.26 ERA and 2.45 FIP, allowing an identical 14 earned runs and 14 walks. Not only were the 47 hits he allowed and 7.6 hits per nine innings also new career-lows, but the California native allowed just two home runs all season and managed a career-high 8.6 K/9. Plus, he compiled an 18:4 shutdown (if he improved his team’s chances of winning) to meltdown (if he made his team more likely to lose) ratio. The 2011 league average was 1.73 shutdowns for every meltdown, so Janssen was miles ahead in that regard.
What’s going to be interesting, though, is how much the Jays’ recent signing of Cordero will affect Janssen next season.
It was easy to spot the increased confidence that Janssen displayed on the mound in 2011. As a result, he emerged as a shutdown option in high leverage situations for manager John Farrell, something that shouldn’t go unnoticed next season even with Cordero’s arrival.
In addition to recording his lowest batting average against (.152) and highest strikeout rate (38.9%, 12.2 K/9) in high leverage situations than any other, Janssen had a 0.90 ERA and 100% left on base percentage in those 10.1 innings as well. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but the impressive numbers implied that Janssen would receive a more prominent role in clutch situations next season.
That notion, unfortunately, seems to longer be the case, since Janssen has been bumped down the relief depth chart thanks to the addition of Cordero, who was actually worse than him in high leverage situations in 2011. Though Cordero did pitch more high-leverage innings than Janssen this past season with 29, he didn’t exactly fare well, to the tune of a 4.34 ERA, .257 average against, and an underwhelming strikeout rate (15.3%, 5.6 K/9).
There’s also the reality that Janssen has been much more effective than Cordero recently against left-handed batters.
Janssen limited left-handed hitters to a .216 average and .539 OPS in 2011, being tagged for only six extra-base hits (all doubles) in 111 at-bats while logging a 2.40 ERA/2.28 FIP. Cordero, on the other hand, held left-handers to a .243 average and .736 OPS, recording a 3.77 ERA/4.59 FIP with 11 extra-base hits against in 115 at-bats: five doubles, one triple, and five home runs.
Considering the kind of pitcher Janssen has evolved into over the past two years, avoiding an arbitration hearing and giving him a one-year contract with a 2013 option for a total of roughly $4 million hardly seems unreasonable.
After it was assumed that Janssen and Darren Oliver would share setup duties to new closer Sergio Santos as well, it will be unfortunate if his role dramatically changes next season with Cordero in the fold.