Blue Jays Extend McGowan

The Toronto Blue Jays have faith in Dustin McGowan. Even though he’s only pitched 21 innings in the majors since 2008, the Jays this week rewarded the 30-year-old with a three-year, $4.1 million contract. With his new deal, McGowan will still make $600,000 this season before receiving $1.5 million in 2013 and an additional $1.5 million in 2014. If all goes well, Toronto can exercise a $4 million option in 2015, or buy out the right-hander for $500,000. While the financial commitment to McGowan is minimal, the Blue Jays’ decision to extend a pitcher with such a lengthy injury history is puzzling.

Multiple arm injuries may have ruined McGowan’s once-promising career. Since returning from Tommy John surgery in 2004, McGowan has dealt with a number of serious shoulder issues for the past several years. Between 2008 and 2011, he had two shoulder surgeries — plus a knee surgery. He didn’t pitch a single inning during that period.

While the odds weren’t in his favor, McGowan returned to the majors last season. Predictably, he struggled. Though McGowan still managed a 20.8 K% in his 21 innings, he walked 13.5% of his batters. His posted a ghastly 6.43 ERA, and his 5.60 FIP and 4.38 xFIP weren’t much better. You have to figure that a full, healthy off-season will give McGowan a good chance to improve his 2011 stats. But the problem is that there’s no way to know (yet) if his previous injuries sapped him of his effectiveness.

Shoulder problems are the most devastating injury a pitcher can sustain. Some pitchers — like Brien Taylor — never fully recover from shoulder surgeries. Others — like Rich Harden — never regain their velocity or their effectiveness. While McGowan made it back from his injuries, his velocity dropped last season. After consistently averaging 94 mph with his fastball in 2007 and 2008, McGowan’s average fastball velocity fell to 92.9 mph last season. That’s still decent, but it’s unclear if the difference will limit him.

And even if McGowan returns to form, there’s no telling how long he’ll stay healthy. That’s why — despite the low cost — this deal is a risky one for Toronto. Guaranteeing an injury prone pitcher $4.1 million isn’t typically a good idea — especially considering McGowan’s already dealt with a foot injury this spring. It’s not a serious injury, but it’s not encouraging when you consider his past.

If McGowan can remain a starter — and if he stays healthy — there’s a chance he’ll live up to this new contract. If he fails to make the major-league rotation out of Spring Training, the Blue Jays might be better off putting him in the AAA rotation. While McGowan’s stuff would probably play well out of the bullpen, it’s hard to imagine him pitching back-to-back days consistently. It would also be tougher for McGowan to live up to his contract since he would be pitching less often.

It’s tough to imagine McGowan returning to full strength or staying healthy for the length of his new extension. In all fairness, the Blue Jays have the most information about his health and have watched him closely this spring. If McGowan is healthy — and he can remain that way — this contract will be an easy win for Toronto.

Still, there’s no telling whether McGowan can pitch a full season. Sure, if he falters, the Blue Jays won’t be out a whole lot of money. But there was really no reason for Toronto to hand out this kind of extension to such a risky player.




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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

40 Responses to “Blue Jays Extend McGowan”

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  1. Nick says:

    Cue the onslaught of Jays fanboys who insist McGowan is a “front-end” starter. Fortunately, the few rational Jays fans (myself included) see this move for what it is.

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  2. VJO says:

    Aside from the Napoli trade (which, to be fair, is only bad when you look at it in hindsight), this has to be AA’s most questionable move.

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    • rdillon99 says:

      If a two year contract totaling only $3M is AA’s most questionable move, then he must be one hell of a GM.

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      • Psst says:

        He is really, at this point Rogers owes him about 300 million to play with after the Wells, Bautista, Lawrie, Santos, Morrow and Escobar moves. I am not a Jays fan but I am blown away by the moves he is able to make.
        Maybe they see DMac moving to the pen where he would likely excede the value of this contract.

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    • TheRuckus says:

      Disagree that the Napoli trade is only bad in hindsight. Sure, it looks worse than it would have after Napoli put up career-best numbers, but it was a questionable move when it happened.

      Still, though, that’s the only black mark on AA’s dossier at the moment.

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      • Beaster says:

        Completely agree. The Napoli trade was horrible from the get go. If you looked at splits Napoli would have been the perfect platoon mate for Adam Lind (hindsight reveals he would have been the everyday 1B). He also would have been able to form a decent platoon with a young Arencebia.

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      • Mick in Ithaca says:

        They wanted an experienced and skilled catcher to back up Aaron Cibia, somebody who could help him and help the pitching staff. Molina was that guy, and Napoli wasn’t.

        They had Encarnacion as a potential platoon mate for Lind if they’d wanted to go that way. They may well this year.

        Would they have won more games with Napoli, assuming he had just as good a season in Toronto? No doubt. But he wasn’t a fit, and they needed a closer. Turned out the closer couldn’t get it together till the 2nd half.

        Yeah, a really terrible move in a season where you have a rookie manager, a rookie catcher (and more young catchers on the way), a rookie pitcher, and little hope of contention. In hindsight one can see how replacing Lind with Napoli might’ve been a good move if Napoli has a similar season in Toronto. But at the time it was completely understandable why Napoli was traded.

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    • Moonraker says:

      I’m thinking the Cordero signing this offseason will be in the running for most questionable move soon. The only pitcher that got luckier than Cordero last year was probably Valverde.

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  3. BombasticDave says:

    Isn’t McGowan out of options despite the contract? Pretty sure the Jays have to 40-man roster him or pass him through waivers…

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    • Chris Cwik says:

      This appears to be true. With the extension, though, maybe the Blue Jays can pass him through waivers. He has potential, but teams may not want to take on the risk. Still, that makes his spring a lot more important. I can’t see him holding up as a reliever. Thanks for pointing this out.

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      • TK says:

        Any team that takes him would have to do so sight unseen, which would be quite a gamble for all the reasons laid out in the article. Perhaps this contract was motivated by a desire to keep him but also start him off in the minors? I still think it’s stupid.

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    • rdillon99 says:

      Yes, McGowan is out of options. He will be on this year’s 25-man roster.

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  4. Geoff says:

    It’s also possible there are still come in the organization stinging from the Chris Carpenter days. Jays let him go for nothing and he turned into a pretty good front end guy.

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  5. allisauce says:

    Really think articles and comments like this are a clear case of people trying to be smarter than they need to be and out thinking the contract.

    At the end of the day, what is $3M to the Blue Jays? They paid $6M to make the Halladay deal happen, they paid at least $5M to get rid of Wells, they paid $5M for Teahen in order to acquire Rasmus, and they paid BJ Ryan $10M to stay home.

    Complaining about $3M (over two years!) That at its worst is a nice goodwill gesture to a guy who’s busted his ass to try and get back and at it’s best could be very good value (I’m not a guy who think McGowan is a ‘front end’ pitcher, either)? Seems like being upset for the sake of being upset to me.

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    • Mike Newman says:

      Love this response. Can McGowan produce 0.8 WAR over the next 3 seasons? I’d say absolutely.

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      • Anon says:

        MInor quibble…he was alrady under contract for 2012, so that shouldn’t be part of the consideration of the extension. But roughly that kind of production in 2013-14…not a high bar to clear at all

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      • Someanalyst says:

        Exactly. If he produces 0.8 WAR over the 1st half season and then his arm explodes, it’s still not a terrible deal for the Jays…

        This is decent risk management I think. Plus McGowan gets a ~$4m prize for his crazy comeback.

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    • GonzoFlyBall says:

      McGowan will likely never regain the impressive form he once flashed before the shoulder surgeries. But even a shell of his former self McGowan could be useful for the Jays.

      Whether in the rotation as the 5th or 6th guy or as a long man in the bullpen, McGowan should live up to the deal.

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  6. AL Eastbound says:

    Much ado about nothing, the Jays ownership has deep pockets and with the new rules capping total draft money spent, not a big risk here.

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  7. DC Nats says:

    $1.5M per year is nothing in the grand scheme of things, and it seems like a good gamble for a potential 3+WAR player for $1.5M. It also shows good faith. They could rid themselves of that contract if McGowan needs to be moved out of the rotation for some of the young guys, but he still isn’t a positive WAR guy. Pointing out that his FB MPH is (ghasp!) 1.1 MPH slower than before? Come on….now who’s nitpicking?? That’s excellent historically for this type of injury.

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    • Psst says:

      not mention that gaining 2-4 MPH by going to the pen is pretty common. If the guy can stay healthy he has Soria upside in the pen as when he is on he has 4 plus pitches.

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  8. SC2GG says:

    How many good starts or reasonable relief appearances does one have to make over the course of 3 years to accumulate 0.8WAR? Like, three good starts? Four maybe? Whether McGowan is good or not, if you’re around for that amount of time, then you’re worth it, or you’re some overpriced Cubs or Giants starter that gets paid a baffling amount of money for whatever reason.

    The chance of failure might be high, but if the result is bad, it’s so tiny of a loss it doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, getting even one half ass season makes it worth it.

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  9. greenfrog says:

    However you slice it for the team, this contract is huge for McGowan and his family, basically providing a lifetime of financial security after his long (and unremunerative) road back.

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  10. It's not about the money says:

    But about the spot on the roster that could go to somebody younger and healthier.

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    • Gort says:

      And when you’re paying the guy 3.5 million over 3 years, it’s not exactly the end of the world if you have to cut him.
      There’s no risk here.

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  11. graemecharles says:

    @Psst

    I recall the Jays saying that he won’t pitch out of the pen. The strain of pitching three times a week was worrisome to them. Someone at DrunkJaysFan made a nice comment about franchise ‘intangibles’ becoming more important now that there’s a cap on the draft. While that might be looking too far down the rabbit hole, whatever the motivation for this contract it can’t hurt the franchise one bit moving forward even if he doesn’t pitch ever again:

    One good column and one good interview spins AliSauce’s worst case scenario into a PR experts wet dream.

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  12. Andrew says:

    How is this a “puzzling” signing? Can you say Chris Carpenter?

    Minimal investment, low risk, high reward.

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  13. Brando says:

    I think even with just his fastball, curve and his changeup McGowan can be a very good starter. I think everyone hopes he stops throwing his slider for the sake of his shoulder and concentrates on his other pitches as his fastball had quite a bit of movement already.

    McGowan also looked terrible out of the pen last year, he seems like a guy who can’t amp it up over short periods without falling into his old habit of overthrowing and just trying to beat guys with his pure gas.

    Dustin tried throwing a sinker last year so hopefully it was a sign of him trying to evolve his repetoire, though he did throw his slider waaaay to much for a guy with his injury history and hopefully he’ll learn that throwing a slider is no way to stay healthy.

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    • Josh says:

      I don’t think many people think that at all. His slider is his strikeout pitch. If he’s not healthy enough to throw that, then he’s not healthy enough to be getting a 2 year contract extension.

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    • Bryan says:

      When you can throw your slider at 88-91 mph, throw it until your arm falls off I say.

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  14. TtD says:

    To be honest, the minor foot injury may actually be a blessing for him and the Jays. It’s one of those things with no set deadline for return, they can throw him on the DL to give him extra time to get ready at season start then bring him back when needed (or is that being cynical of me). Saves them from worrying about going through waivers with him.

    As for the deal, meh, pretty much no cost, decent upside if things break right, at worst the Jays have to soak up the contract when they drop him.

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  15. Dan says:

    This contract is the reason people grumble about the financial structure of baseball. The Jays want to keep him, and he is out of options. So they sign him to this contract because #1 They think it is an acceptable risk, and the dollars don’t mean much to them; and #2 Now the Pirates, Astros, and A’s wont pick him up if the Jays want to send him to the minors (because they would be on the hook for $4 million they don’t have). It’s kind of like the clause the Red Sox put in the Andrew Miller contract last year when they wanted to send him to the minors but didn’t wan to lose him. At least half the teams in baseball wouldn’t go near $4 million guaranteed for a guy with McGowan’s injury history. But if there were no strings attached there are a bunch of non-contenders who would give him a roster spot.

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  16. Mike D says:

    You forgot to mention that Harden earned 15 million over the last 3 years and actually pitched OK last year despite his ERA. 3.5 million for 2 years and an option to make it 7 million for 3 seems reasonable. It’s not a total waste of money as it has potential upside. Also this may pave the way for a move to the pen as he/team may have been wary to test him out there, but now that he has financial security they may be more willing. Also they’ve actually seen him pitching for the last 4 months which most of us have not or very little exposure.

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  17. WilsonC says:

    There’s a high likelihood of him being a bust, but the cost is low compared to the potential upside, and the break even point is very low. It’s really not much different from a typical prospect in that sense – more imediate impact, fewer years of control, but it’s similar in that it’s a lottery ticket where you don’t expect it to pay off but the potential surplus value offsets the risk. Without access to the team’s information on his medical records, we don’t necessarily have the ability to properly compare the risk, but I wouldn’t be surprised his his likelihood of at least breaking even is significantly better than the majority of even first-round draft picks.

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  18. Matty Brown says:

    $3 Million over 2 years in today’s MLB could never be considered “risky”. Especially since he has had a good spring (stuff and consistency wise). Even if he only pitched 100 innings over the next 2 years, he would be worth $3 Million.

    Mcgowan could easily be a 2 WAR starter in each of the next 2 seasons if he pitches 150 innings per year. Hell, if all breaks right, he could be a 3 WAR starter in each season; that seems well worth the measly gamble of $3 Million.

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  19. Sam in T.O says:

    I don’t understand the comments saying there’s “no risk” to this deal. AA acknowledged the team is taking on a fair bit of risk. Obviously, 3M is a drop in the bucket for Rogers but the timing of this deal makes no sense. Plus, some of the young guys (McGuire, Hutchison, Drabek) could be better options for the rotation by late 2012/early ’13.

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