Toronto Blue Jays fans are sensitive when it comes to Dustin McGowan, and it’s understandable why. He’s held his course down a very tough road, and for the most part it’s been behind the scenes. In fact, over the last four seasons, McGowan has made a grand total of four appearances in front of the hometown crowd. This, after winning us over with glimpses of brilliance in his previous two seasons as a starter.
Viewing his appearances objectively or questioning the contract extension that was handed to him have become akin to kicking the crutch out from under Tiny Tim.
In no way is criticism directed at Dustin McGowan the pitcher meant as a slight against him as a human being. I understand that as fans we haven’t been given much in the way of chances to show our appreciation for his efforts, at least not in the same fashion as we are for the rest of the roster, but believe me, even prior to the contract extension, the Blue Jays have done right by McGowan, signing him in each of his arbitration years and picking up the bill on his rehab, when non-tendering him while he dealt with his myriad of injuries would have been perfectly acceptable.
It all started in 2004, when the top prospect in the Jays organization suffered his first serious injury. Pitching for Double A New Hampshire at the time, McGowan blew out his elbow, requiring Tommy John to replace his UCL after only his sixth start of the season. Then, while rehabbing, the right hander was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes.
Undeterred, he pushed on with his recovery and then spent parts of 2005 and 2006 in Toronto where he ultimately failed to impress. He started 2007 at Triple A Syracuse, but was called up in early May when members of the Blue Jays rotation began suffering from arm shittiness. We remember you, Tomo Ohka.
He grabbed hold of the opportunity and won a regular place in the rotation. However, McGowan suffered from shoulder pain throughout the next season and spent some time on the Disabled List until it was decided in July that he would undergo season-ending surgery to repair a frayed labrum in his shoulder.
Unfortunately, his recovery from the surgery was slower than expected and McGowan didn’t begin throwing a baseball again until May of 2009. Then, in early July, it was discovered that McGowan would require knee surgery to repair articular cartilage damage. A month and a half later, McGowan resumed his rehab in hopes of being available for 2010.
After making an appearance in a Minor League Spring Training game in which he was a shell of his former self, McGowan gave up on trying to make the Opening Day roster. Instead, he continued his rehab in Florida while the rest of the team headed North. Then, in June, he once again experienced pain in his shoulder. It was later discovered that he had torn his rotator cuff and would once again require season-ending surgery.
With the nerve of Sisyphus, McGowan again endured rehab, this time successfully returning in 2011, and pitching in Major League games to close out the year. He entered the 2012 Spring Training camp with a real chance of keeping his place in the starting rotation, but once again he suffered a new injury. Due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the pitcher had to be carted off the field in a Spring Training game.
While rehabbing the foot injury, McGowan began experiencing soreness in his shoulder which prompted a visit to Dr. James Andrews, who by this point is likely a close personal friend of the McGowan family. An MRI revealed inflammation and McGowan was prescribed more rest and less work meaning yet another shut down.
While no one would call McGowan’s refusal to give up anything less than admirable, I’ve joked before that perhaps he would have found better luck with his recovery if he didn’t spend so much time with his comic book collection and obsessing over Bruce Willis.
I bring all of this up as a means of suggesting that it was foolish to place any amount of faith in McGowan. Further, the dedication and concern with doing right by the unlucky pitcher could end up costing this team in more ways than misspending a few extra million dollars or having one less spot on the 40-man roster.
By relying on McGowan to make the team’s starting rotation out of Spring Training, the Blue Jays were forced into calling up Drew Hutchison early. Calling up a pitcher with little more than 30 innings above A Ball isn’t ideal, but in this case the more troubling scenario will play out if Hutchison maintains his place in the rotation.
If Hutchison isn’t sent back down to the Minor Leagues, he will be on the fast track to free agency.
Correction: Hutchison wasn’t on the 40-man roster before his call up which means that he’ll fall just under 172 days in the Majors in 2012, keeping him under team control through 2018. What we’re looking at is an extra year of arbitration eligibility through Super Two instead of earlier free agency.
If the Blue Jays had properly prepared for the possibility that McGowan wouldn’t be making the rotation out of Spring Training, an early call up and risking a possible Super Two situation wouldn’t be an issue. Of course, other factors contributed to this, including the continuing decline of Brett Cecil and the questionable call up/send down strategies exercised for both Joel Carreno and Aaron Laffey, but the McGowan one sticks out as the sore thumb given the strange amount of faith, as evidenced by the unnecessary two year contract extension, placed in his ability to pitch not only this coming year, but the next two seasons as well.
While the odds may be against Hutchison spending the rest of his career without a demotion, McGowan being shelved for an even longer period, gives the young pitch additional chances at making the unlikely happen. That’s something that McGowan wishes could happen for him, as well.