The Jays have avoided arbitration with Casey Janssen, signing the 30 year old reliever for 2 years, $5.9 million with a team option for $4 million in 2014. Janssen had been seeking $2.2 million in arbitration, the team offered $1.8; the signing also buys out one of Janssen's free agency years.
Janssen was one of the more valuable relievers in baseball in 2011, especially on a per-inning basis, finishing in the top 25 relievers in WPA despite pitching relatively few innings (55.2), and working in, on average, lower leverage situations than every pitcher ahead of him on the WPA leaderboard. WAR is not especially useful in evaluating relievers, but Janssen's fWAR and bWAR were 1.3 and 1.7 respectively, which is a pretty good year for a reliever. Janssen was also very good in 2010 after missing the entire 2008 season with a torn labrum and being injured for much of 2009. His peripherals are also strong; he compiled a 116/35 K/BB ratio and allowed only 10 home runs in 124.1 innings between 2010 and 2011. ZiPS predicts Janssen will fare similarly well in 2012.
So, is this a good deal for the Jays? I would say that it's basically fair to both parties. If we average what the Jays offered and what Janssen wanted it comes out to $2 million for 2012. So, essentially the Jays bought a year of Janssen's free agency for $3.9 million, with an additional option year (with no buyout) of $4 million. Unless he completely implodes Janssen at $2 million is a good deal for the Jays in 2012. Will Casey Janssen be worth $3.9 million in 2013? The answer is probably. He either has to be as good as he was last year, or pitch more innings, or both to make the contract worth it for the club. The market for relievers has cooled down, but $4 million a year seems to be about what players similar to Janssen were signing for this off-season: Jonathan Broxton ($4 million), Matt Capps ($4.75 million), Francisco Cordero ($4.5 million), Octavio Dotel ($3.5 million), Frank Francisco ($12 million/2 years), Latroy Hawkins ($3 million), Brad Lidge ($1 million), Darren Oliver ($4 million), Jon Rauch ($3.5 million), Kerry Wood ($3 million) and Joe Nathan ($14.5/2 years)
Two things stand out for me here. One, it seems like GMs are finally figuring out that big contracts for relievers are incredibly stupid. Only four free agent relievers signed multi-year deals, and two of those were for two years. Two, Janssen is better, younger, significantly healthier or some combination therein than pretty much all of those pitchers. I am not sure in which world given their performance and injury history one would prefer Joe Nathan over Casey Janssen for the next two years, for example.
Still, relievers flame out all the time, and going to a second year with Janssen as opposed to year to year puts that risk on the Jays. Unless Janssen is phenomenal in 2012 the Jays probably could have signed him to a similar amount for 2013, maybe paying a slight premium over what they are currently paying. This way the club assumes the risk of Janssen becoming injured or ineffective. This is a distinct possibility, and as such I don't think that this deal can be graded as a clear win for the Blue Jays. However the changes in the CBA essentially preclude the Jays receiving any compensation for losing Janssen next year when he becomes a free agent, and if he stays healthy Janssen is likely to command on the free agent market at least what the Jays are instead paying him. As a bonus for assuming this risk the Jays pick up a free, no-buyout option year for Janssen at $4 million, and if he's halfway decent the next two years he will certainly be worth that. So, ultimately, the Jays aren't gaining much in 2013 in terms of value, and assume some injury/ineffectiveness risk, with the upside being that they lock in a potentially valuable reliever for 2014. Ultimately the deal rests on whether you think Janssen is going to get injured or perform worse. If he stays healthy it's a small win for the Jays, if he gets injured it's a small loss.
Coda: It's worth noting that the Jays have been pretty conservative in signing players to extensions under Alex Anthopoulos, but they've generally been strong moves. Jose Bautista's extension worked out swimmingly, and Yunel Escobar's was outright larceny. Ricky Romero signed for 5 years, $30.1 million before the 2011 season, and the team has one free agent year at $7.5 mil and an option at $13.1, which given his performance in 2011 very solid. Brandon Morrow's extension was similar to the Janssen one in that a lot of it depends on what you think Morrow is going to do, but I graded it as a slight positive. I'd rate that overall as very strong (update: I missed Adam Lind (essentially 3 years, $17 million for his 3 arb years plus 3 option years at ~$7 million per) and Rajai Davis (2 years $5.75 million with 1 option year at $2.5 million). In retrospect both of these were/are failures, the Lind contract somewhat defensibly and the Davis one not at all.