Giddy Up! Morrow Extended AND Vizquel Coming to TO!!!

A big night last night for fans of the Toronto Blue Jays; something to get us excited on a dark, dreary, cold, windy, and rainy January night.

First the bigger news – the Blue Jays sign Brandon Morrow to a 3-year / $20-million contract extension.  At first glance, this looks like a great deal for the Jays.  Morrow is 27-years old (he’ll be 28 in July), meaning he is just entering his prime years, and neither the term nor the dollar value are outrageous.

Then I took a second glance at the signing, and it looks like an even better deal.

Look at Morrow’s numbers over the past three seasons (2009 with Seattle).  He has gone from 10 starts, to 26 starts, to 30 starts.  His innings pitched have also steadily increased, from 69.2 to 146.1, to 179.1 last season.  Yes his ERA has also steadily risen, up to an unsightly 4.72 in 2011, but most importantly, his WHIP and his walk rate (measured as BB/9) have steadily decreased over the past three years.  All that while maintaining a K/9 rate of greater than 10 in each of the last two years, including a league leading 10.19 in 2011.

Yes Morrow is inconsistent, sometimes frustratingly so.  But don’t forget – he didn’t really become a full-time starter until 2010 when arriving with the Blue Jays.  Most young starting pitchers take time to settle, and Morrow was jerked around by Seattle, which likely delayed his growth as a pitcher.  It’s hard enough to transition from a closer to a starter.  Imagine being forced to go back and forth multiple times?  Now that his arm strength has built and his starting technique has developed, his elite potential is on the verge of exploding.

I read a tweet from ESPN analyst Jim Bowden who labelled the signing “high risk” due to Morrow’s “increasing ERA’s and injury history”.  But is a three year deal at < $7-million a season really so dangerous, for a potentially elite starting pitcher who has electric stuff and the ability to lead the league in strikeouts year after year?  Especially when the Phillies will be paying Jonathan Papelbon $12.5-million to pitch 125-150 fewer innings, and Arizona will be paying Joe Saunders (a 30-year old with a 4.6 K/9 ratio and a 1.31 WHIP (worse than Morrow’s)) $6-million for 2012?  I don’t think so.

In the second move of the night, Toronto signed 44-year old (45 in April) Omar Vizquel to a one-year deal.  Many people wondered why, especially considering his advanced age and declining skill set.  But I love it.

Some people point to the fact that he is a Latin player who speaks Spanish, and thus will help Yunel Escobar.  Others point to the fact he could be a mentor to the young Cuban, and potential future Toronto SS Adeiny Hechavarria.  Both are solid points.

One could argue that Vizquel will fill the same role as Johnny Mac did for many years – a late inning defensive replacement.  You could also point out that despite being much older, Vizquel actually put up better offensive stats than Johnny last year: .251 average and .592 OPS, compared to a .229 average and .577 OPS (in both Toronto and Arizona).  If you want to nitpick further, Vizquel’s offensive numbers destroyed those of Mike McCoy, the incumbent “light-hitting sub”.

All good points.

But the real reason why I love the signing has nothing to do with that stuff. 

You see, as a kid growing up I played baseball, grinding it out summer after summer in the WMBA (Whitby Minor Baseball Association) for such powerhouse teams as The Legal Beagles, and Whitby Toyota.  I played a pretty good shortstop, showing good range, with a decent arm.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t hit, finishing my career with 0 home runs and one triple.  But I developed a pretty good slap hitting style, getting on base a lot.  So naturally, who became my favourite player of all time?  Tony Fernandez.  What other players captivated me on a daily basis whenever I watched baseball highlights?  Ozzie Smith, Alfredo Griffin, and you guessed it.

Omar Vizquel.

Welcome to Toronto buddy.

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