February 2011. The Jays faced a decision. Jose Bautista was coming off a breakout 2010 season (4th in MVP voting) despite an up-to-that-point unspectacular career. Toronto could offer Jose a long-term contract, or take him to arbitration in 2011 and wait and see if he could duplicate his 2010 success.
Toronto decided to gamble, rather than risk losing Jose to free agency, and signed him to a 4+1 year deal. And all is well with the world.
Toronto now faces a similar situation, but the uncertainty comes from the opposite direction. Earlier today, Josh Johnson’s agent said that Josh was open to discussing a contract extension with the Jays.
JJ’s situation is similar to Jose’s in that, if the Jays do not sign him now and JJ has a strong 2013, he will be a highly sought after free agent for 2014. Zack Greinke is reportedly asking for 6 years/$150 million, and it is very possible that JJ would seek similar numbers (particularly after the wage inflation expected to result from the new TV deal in 2014).
But JJ’s situation is the opposite of Jose’s in that JJ has not just emerged from nowhere with an extraordinary breakout year. Instead, JJ has had an excellent career which is now showing disturbing downward trends. His 2012 K/9 was 7.62, down over a full K from his 8.73 average in 2009 and 2010. This may be due to a decline in velocity – his FB averaged 94.8 in 2009 and 2010, and 94.0 before he was hurt in 2011, but only 92.8 in 2012. And JJ’s 2012 ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all the highest in his last 5 years.
Conventional wisdom has it that a pitcher’s performance peaks around age 27-28. JJ will turn 29 in January 2013, and would be 30 in the first year of a contract extension.
But – all that being said – JJ is still a very good pitcher, and it is possible that his performance will return to 2009/10 levels with another year of recovery from his 2011 injury. And A-squared might be able to turn the uncertainty to his advantage by offering an attractive-but-not-Greinke package right now. Would JJ accept a Jered Weaver-level deal (5 years, $85 million) – and if so, should A-squared offer one? Or would JJ expect Matt Cain (6 years, $128 million) or Cole Hamels (6 years, $144 million) money?
So what does everyone think? Would you extend JJ, and if so at what price?