Blue Jays lock up pitcher Brandon Morrow - Metro US

Blue Jays lock up pitcher Brandon Morrow

TORONTO – Brandon Morrow and the Toronto Blue Jays didn’t need to rely on a third party to come to terms after all.

Morrow has signed a three-year, US$20-million deal with the Blue Jays to avoid an arbitration hearing. Toronto also has a $10-million club option for the 2015 season.

Morrow had asked for $4.2 million in arbitration after posting an 11-11 record last season with a 4.72 ERA and 203 strikeouts over 179 1/3 innings. Toronto countered with an offer of $3.9 million to the six-foot-three, 196-pound right-hander.

Prior to exchanging salary figures, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos left the door open to a potential long-term deal with Morrow but said the club was also fine with meeting with an arbitrator to finalize contract details.

At a hastily called news conference Tuesday, Morrow said he had no fear about the prospect of going to an arbitration hearing and was actually looking forward to the process.

“To be honest, I’m interested in things like that,” he told reporters at Rogers Centre. “I think the whole process and mini-court situation is actually interesting to me and a little intriguing.

“But I was much happier to be able to work on the multi-year (deal) with Alex.”

Anthopoulos said Morrow’s potential — he called the 27-year-old California native a potential first or second starter in the rotation — made this an easy deal to reach.

“He flashes the ability to really dominate,” Anthopoulos said. “Brandon’s ceiling is he can be as good as anybody in the game.

“Obviously, easier said than done but it’s definitely something for us that made sense to do this deal.”

Anthopoulos defended Morrow’s statistics by saying Toronto’s defence did him no favours last year. The GM said Morrow is a fly-ball pitcher and that necessarily didn’t mesh well with a Blue Jays’ outfield defence that Anthopoulos called “the worst in baseball,” in 2011.

With Morrow under contract, that leaves reliever Casey Janssen as the only Blue Jay heading to arbitration. Janssen, who earned $1.1 million last year, is asking for $2.2 million while the Jays have offered $1.8 million.

While the two sides are only $400,000 apart, Anthopoulos figures the issue will ultimately be resolved by an arbitrator.

“I think so,” he said. “But at the end of the day he’s going to be there in spring training, he’s going to get a raise from last year.

“I’ve spoken to him and he certainly understands the process. Whatever way it goes we know whatever the amount is will be the right amount. It’s not really a concern for us.”

Toronto acquired Morrow from the Seattle Mariners for right-hander Brandon League and outfielder Johermyn Chavez prior to the 2010 season. Morrow has compiled a 21-18 record with a 4.62 ERA and 381 strikeouts in only 325.2 career innings pitched.

Morrow made a career-high 30 starts last year and also established career highs in wins (11), innings pitched (179.1) and strikeouts (203). He finished second to Toronto ace Ricky Romero in wins (15), ERA (2.92), starts (32) and innings pitched (225.0) but led the Jays’ staff in strikeouts.

Morrow was one of just seven American League pitchers last year to register 200-plus strikeouts and averaged a league-best 10.19 strikeouts per nine innings.

And he ended the 2011 campaign strong, posting a paltry 0.86 ERA over his final three starts following a miserable stretch of nine starts where his ERA soared past 6.50. Morrow said the key to his late-season success was getting mean and nasty on the mound.

“A lot of times you pitch better with a little chip on your shoulder and I hope that’s something I can incorporate into my game a little bit more,” he said. “I think if you look at the best athletes and they’ve all got a little bit of that in them especially when things are on the line.”

Anthopoulos, for one, noticed the difference.

“Towards the end I saw maybe a little more fire,” he said. “But Brandon is a competitor … and I think it’s all part of being a young starter.”

The deal earns Morrow a level of financial security but comes at a price. This contract encompasses the final two years of Morrow’s arbitration eligibility as well as the first season of eligible free agency.

“That’s part of the risk as a player to possibly sacrifice that payday at free agency,” Morrow said. “It’s a good situation here and I’m really excited about the direction that Alex is taking this team … and I think it’s just going to get better.”

Anthopoulos has been busy this week.

On Monday night, the Blue Jays announced that infielder Omar Vizquel — who will turn 45 in April — signed a one-year minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Vizquel has played 23 seasons with five different teams and is currently 159 hits short of the 3,000 plateau. He also offers Toronto a potential low-risk insurance policy.

“Omar is coming in to compete and try to earn a spot on this team,” Anthopoulos said. “Certainly with his career track record and everything else he brings both on and off the field, there’s really no down side.

“We’ve always said that when it comes to a minor-league contract there’s no such thing as a bad one. There are no guarantees from the club standpoint other than a flight to and from spring training.”

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