The Toronto Blue Jays used Jon Lester and Yovani Gallardo as the comparables in contract talks with Ricky Romero, and believe the young left-hander will blossom just like the other two aces.
The five-year, $30.1-million US contract extension they settled on Saturday establishes the 25-year-old as one of general manager Alex Anthopoulos's franchise cornerstones.
The deal starts next season and runs through 2015, with a club option for 2016. He is the only player on the roster with a guaranteed contract for that long, a demonstration of the confidence Anthopoulos has in him even though Romero has yet to finish his second big-league season.
"We see him being the future leader of this staff, someone that's going to be an anchor for us both with what he does on the field and off," said Anthopoulos. "He's as good an example as we have for a lot of our young starters with his work ethic and determination."
Romero's deal includes a $1.25-million signing bonus and salaries of $750,000 in 2011, $5 million in 2012 and $7.5 million in 2013-15. The option is worth $13 million with a buyout of $600,000.
The total package is nearly identical to those signed by Lester, the Boston Red Sox's ace left-hander, and Gallardo, who fronts the Milwaukee Brewers' staff. Both were all-stars this year.
Romero is the second player locked up by Anthopoulos, following in the footsteps of designated hitter/left-fielder Adam Lind, who signed an extension at the end of spring training that is worth $18 million over four years. That deal runs through 2013 with club options that could take him through 2016.
The concept — achieving cost certainty and roster continuity by buying out a player's arbitration and, perhaps, some free agent seasons — is not a new one.
Anthopoulos's predecessor J.P. Ricciardi, did that in the spring of 2003 when he signed Eric Hinske ($14.75 million) and Vernon Wells ($14.7 million) to five-year deals.
'We think he's going to be an innings-eater … and continue to evolve into a leader in the clubhouse.' — Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos on Romero
The Blue Jays saved money on Wells but seriously overpaid for Hinske, a gamble that Anthopoulos is now taking on Lind and Romero.
"You always have concerns when you make a commitment about what the reaction might be on the part of the player," said Anthopoulos. "But we see a guy like Ricky continuing to improve.
"He's made tremendous strides, we think he's going to be an innings-eater, going to be a horse and continue to evolve into a leader in the clubhouse as well."
Romero was the sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft and was considered a bust until he broke through last spring to win a spot in the rotation.
He went 13-9 with a 4.30 earned-run average in his rookie campaign and this season is 9-7 with a 3.53 ERA in 23 starts.
Romero has thus far avoided serious injury in his career and the Blue Jays are hopeful that he can continue to stay healthy.
"There's no question that there's a higher risk of injury relative to a position player," said Anthopoulos. "[But] the benefits from our standpoint are potential savings in arbitration through those years, club control of two free agent years, one guaranteed, one a club option, and being able to really tie in a player through what we believe are going to be his prime years."
Meanwhile, Anthopoulos said talks continue with first-round pick Deck McGuire, and he expects the matter to go down to the wire. The signing deadline is midnight Monday.
"We continue to work diligently, hopeful, optimistic but no news and it seems like a lot of these unsigned players will go to Monday," he said. "We really don't know how it's going to play out."