According to Jim Bowden of ESPN.com, the Toronto Blue Jays have signed pitcher Dustin McGowan to a two year contract with a club option for a third year. Earlier this winter, McGowan and the Blue Jays agreed to $600,000 contract that avoided his final year of arbitration.

The new deal adds two years onto his current contract, paying him $1.5 million in 2013 and 2014, plus gives the club a $4 million option for 2015.

Over the last three years, McGowan has faced 142 batters. Not 142 Major League batters. 142 total batters in professional baseball games. He’s faced only 96 batters in the Majors over that time, all coming last season.

On the scale of completely inexplicable to obviously reasonable, the signing is bat shit crazy. McGowan has had a worse time with his health than the most delusional of hypochondriacs could imagine. And even after a return from several injuries over the last several years, he’s since been diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in his right foot.

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 Spring Training with a real chance of keeping his place in the starting rotation, but once again suffered the aforementioned injury, surprising absolutely no one.

His performances last year and over the Spring have run the gauntlet of ugly to encouraging. While his velocity has been back up to the numbers that first impressed talent scouts, other aspects of his game have prompted observers like Keith Law to call him “a shadow of what he used to be.”

While no one would call McGowan’s refusal to give up anything less than admirable, 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.

No matter the terms, signing a player with McGowan’s injury history to a multiple year contract makes little sense. If this is a tactic by the Blue Jays management to avoid another team picking McGowan up on waivers, generally, signing a player to a contract that’s so bad that no one else wants to take it is on is not a good strategy.

In a best case scenario, McGowan pitches as well as Ryan Vogelsong, who after considerable time away from the game, came back to pitch very well last season with the San Francisco Giants. Vogelsong, then signed a two year contract this winter that guarantees him $8.3 million. And while, unlike McGowan, that did cover a year of arbitration eligibility, it came AFTER he had a full successful season at the Major League level. If we compare these two deals and their timing, the Blue Jays are essentially risking $3 million to potentially save $5 million.

In terms of risk versus reward, that doesn’t cut it.

Update

Photos from McGowan’s most recent weight training are already discouraging:

Comments (67)

  1. When you’ve got a guy with McGowan’s character you gotta lock em up!

  2. I like it. If the Jays staff likes what they have seen, why not? It’s not like they haven’t been paying if for nothing for a long time anyways…

    Hope he can become our version of Chris Carpenter. We let him get away, don’t want to do it again.

  3. still not buying it…

  4. Eh. Let’s wait to hear the details.

    McGowan probably felt like he owed the team for sticking with him, so I’m sure it’s team friendly. If it’s 2-years and $3M or so total, with an option, that wouldn’t be bad.

  5. I think a Spring Training season where we saw him have trouble with injuries to his feet after coming off 28 surgeries guarantees him a contract… because he’s a good guy and everyone knows good guys always get locked up!

  6. I’m sure it will be cheap as dirt.

  7. Tick, tick, tick.
    Doesn’t look like anyone’s jumping to 2nd this report. Bowden may be out to lunch…again.

  8. Signing Mike McCoy to a two-year extension would be more plausible.

  9. Michael Garncarz: I see…

  10. Press conference in 30 minutes, guys.

  11. Lott is saying it’s true.
    Whoa.

  12. I wonder if this is an attempt to stop other teams from picking up on waivers if they want to send him down.

  13. Welp. Open mouth. Insert foot.

  14. If the report is true — and we should all wait and see if it is — then the only thing I can think of is some sort of handshake deal where McGowan and AA agreed that McGowan would take a low-dollar (600K), one year salary through the spring, and if McGowan was healthy, they’d work on a extending him for a year or two.

    Here are some reasons why this might make sense:
    1) Insurance. Apparently Ryan Madson’s contract was not insured for the season by the Reds because it was a one-year deal, but I don’t see AA and Rogers taking such a risk. Perhaps after last season, McGowan was still uninsurable (or only insurable with a really high premium) and so the low dollar figure helped cover the Jays risk were he to be injured during the spring. Upon completing the spring healthy (foot inflammation aside), perhaps his new contract is insured and now McGowan is getting fairer value, as the low salary is not necessary to cover risk the way it was before.
    2) AA genuinely believes that McGowan’s shoulder is healthy and doesn’t want a good year by McGowan to lead to him signing a free agent contract elsewhere. In the early 90s, this was known as the Al Leiter debacle.

    I admit that when McGowan signed in the offseason I thought it was curious there was no team option for a player who was a free agent at the end of the season and into which the Jays had invested so much patience and money. Perhaps the CBA (or labor law, or insurance policies, or some kind of league precedent) compels teams to cover medical expenses if an option is declined on an injured player. So start with a low risk deal, and instead of a deal that escalates a player’s salary when he makes the major league roster — the team might still be on the hook for the escalated amount if the player was injured in Spring Training, not to mention it brings money (and media attention on the money) into the roster decision — they agreed to do this: get through the spring healthy, we’ll rewrite the contract in a way that helps us insure you and control a couple more years. You’ll get more money.

    Pure speculation. But that’s all there is when a team makes a sort of curious move. I’d like to see someone other than Bowden confirm the signing.

  15. “they called me mr. glass”… perfect

  16. 1.5 million per year seems awfully high for his injury history.

  17. Al Leiter came to mind for me too. But I’m worried that this might unnecessarily marry a roster spot to an underperforming player. There needs to be some sort of AAA out for the Jays.

  18. As much as I like McGowan I kinda thought this would be his last year with the club no matter what. This year alone we have 3 guys who could conceivably be our number 4-5 starters and next year there will be another 2-3 who are going to be in the hunt for a spot in the rotation all of whom are not the same injury risk and have much higher ceilings. Confusing…

  19. Wilner being a moron on twitter again.

  20. Wilner is a moron on twitter everyday.

  21. Wow, I can’t believe they would treat a player with any modicum of respect. This is an absolute outrage. This is a god damn business, and you do whatever you have to do to make money and win baseball games, and this signing quite definitely does not help to accomplish either of these things. If Travis Snider is shit on year after year and disrespected by the organization then so to should Dustin McGowan. Why does he get all this special treatment?!!?? All he’s done is battle back from 4 years of injuries and a diabetes diagnosis. This is bullshit!!!!

    Just to make it clear, I am being totally sarcastic. It’s 3 million dollars over 2 years. WHO GIVES A FUCK!!!!! signings like this in exceptional circumstances aren’t the reason why we didn’t get Fielder or Darvish

  22. I’m not sure I agree with Parkes’ Vogelsong’s analogy… I tend to think this way about what happens. 3 Different Scenarios

    Scenario A:

    2013: 1 WAR at 1.5M
    2014: 1 WAR at 1.5M
    Team exercises option in 2015: 1 WAR at 4M
    8M below market value

    Scenario B:

    2013: 0 WAR at 1.5M
    2014: 0 WAR at 1.5M
    Team doesn’t exercise option
    Loss: 3M

    Scenario C:
    2013: 0 WAR at 1.5
    2013: 1 WAR at 1.5
    or vice versa
    2M below market value
    Team can then make determination of option, at that point.

    The odds are pretty good that the deal will be pretty good. Someone let me know if I’m missing something.

    • I don’t see any downside to this at all. $7m over 3 years (and only 3 is guaranteed) is chicken feed. Yes there’s risk but there’s risk in all types of pitching contracts – Ryan Madson anyone? Parkes you love to break things down via Fangraph’s methods all the time. Looking at the numbers, he’s got to basically put up a total of 1.5 fWAR over 3 years to have been worth it.

      With an arm like McGowan’s and future restrictions on the amount of money that can be spent via amateur drafts this could be a very smart thing for the Jays to do. Again there’s no question there’s going to be risk but is it any riskier than dropping a few million on some 16 year old or even a first rounder like Russ Adams or David Purcey?

      When healthy at least McGowan is a known quantity. Look at the contracts Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon both signed. They were of similar value after missing significant time the last few years or being out of baseball completely like Colon was for 2 years. Garcia has been worth 5.5 WAR the last 2 years and Colon 2.4 WAR his first year back. If McGowan comes close to repeating what these guys did then the contract is an outright steal.

  23. 1.5 / year isn’t too awful, and of course that team option isn’t even a consideration. If he pitches well enough to merit picking that up, it’ll be a steal.

    I still say they should just turn him into a setup guy, but I recognise that’s an entirely different set of wear and tear on an injured arm.

  24. I guess they were worried about having Chris Carpenter Part II.

  25. Francisco Cordero was guaranteed more money to pitch out of our bullpen for a year. $3M/2 years is hardly something to lose your shit over, and I doubt the Jays are handing out extensions without consulting team doctors and taking his current health into consideration.

  26. Who cares, not my money as long as it doesn’t keep them running him out there if he is terrible.

  27. The Vogelsong comparison makes little sense. We have no idea how much teams would’ve been willing to pay for him, and especially for how long. The 3m reward in 2012 suggests that he would have been valued at around 4m by the arbitration process, that’s it

  28. I fee like this is a lot of feigning outrage over not a whole heck of a lot.

    What is the downside here for Toronto? That he occupies a roster spot? I’m sorry if one of Chad Beck, Trystan Magnuson or Danny Farquar has to be exposed to waivers. That’s not even taking into consideration the Cordero & Oliver aren’t likely to be in Toronto long, same with guys like Valbuena/McCoy, Francisco, Mathis, Davis, or even Sierra and Cooper.

    The contract does nothing to hamper payroll flexibility (If Cole Hamels or anyone else comes to AA and says “I want to play in Toronto, and it’ll cost you $120M” does anyone actually believe AA’s response is “Sorry, we can’t because we’re paying McGowan $1.5M”?).

    If he fails as a starter and has to relieve? $1.5M doesn’t break any banks. If he fails as a reliever and has to be waived/released? Same deal, especially considering the $$ the Jays have eaten the past few seasons (Ryan, Wells, Teahen, etc).

    If his arm blows up again? The Jays likely have insurance, and he then clears a roster spot.

    I really can see a scenario playing out in the course of this contract that is completely unpalatable.

    • No this absolutely deserves overreaction, so much so that Parkes, Drew and Stoeten should probably do an entire fucking podcast related to this one minor negligible issue, oh wait….

  29. Today in overreacting….

  30. i can barely type this due to my eyes still rolling in the back of my head from the inane comments from this article and djf podcast about “it’s the years i have a problem with” and “it’s 3 million that could be spent somewhere else”.

    first off, it was the jays who probably wanted the extra year. at the current discounted price this is a steal! is there injury risk? sure, but the last time i checked the surest thing type players in mlb start at 5 years and 20 million a year. the jays have obviously done their homework, and they believe that he has come back. they waited as long as they could and got enough information to pull the trigger, and with every with start that he makes the jays realized that the price would only go up.

    think about it (and forget the vogelsong crap example), if he can pitch the year and be anywhere from decent to good (which btw is a huge concession on his upside on my part) who would’t want that arm at 2 years @ 3 million. it’s an absolute buy low with belief in the fundamentals. if he can pitch the year there is not one gm in baseball who wouldn’t be interested in 2 years of McGowan next winter at that price.

    IT’S CALLED BUYING AN ASSET WHICH YOU BELIEVE WILL APPRECIATE AT A BARGAIN PRICE!

    and if you prime time sports round table knock off’s could could stop listening to your own voices for one moment and thought critically for one second, i hope that you could have come up with the best keith law quote for this situation which is that AA is a “value whore”. this deal screams that!

    as a special note for parkes, it is not 3 million dollars that could be used somewhere else, it’s 1.5 million for each of 2013 and 2014. budgets are set annually. comb your beard man! you sound like bob mcCown standing on his “why did they let jose molina go” soap box.

    as an extra special note to parkes i wonder why you went to the SABR convention at all? if you would have been paying attention to what was being said at the convention (between you daydream fantasies of driving down the PHC like a target demographic in a volkswagon ad) you would have saw Dave Cameron’s presentation on “scrap heap” pitchers and, i don’t know, applied the information to this suitable example, just a guess on my part.

    as you were probably listening to a nick drake track in your pontiac vibe rental doing your best to live out the commercial here is the link to Cameron’s presentation. go to the conclusions buddy.

    http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/SABR.pptx

    the following clip is the best way to describe my dismay with the editorial of this story.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnT8Osyqsrg

    book it!

    • Hahaha. Slide 5: All guys who signed one year deals.

      McGowan is unlike any pitcher being used as an example in this presentation.

      • take the logic of the first point i made (asset value of total contract come this winter) and add it to the Dave Cameron point.

        it may hurt a little bit, but when the light bulb goes off in your head you just may realize that AA taken this suggested market inefficacy and extracted additional value by adding years.

  31. Shittiest article I’ve ever read dude. Worse yet, I found it from a link on the DJF page. You suck, can you stay off there please??? I like it there and don’t need your writing hand shittyness (see what I just did there???) ruining something that isn’t a big deal in the first place….why don’t you do a podcast about it?? Oh yea, that sucked too. So….there’s that.

  32. Same day, same game, same inning, next at bat. Possible first day.
    I would say she sitting out of harms way by being away from the ooglers

  33. Vogelsong is entering his age-35 season, while McGowan just turned 30. Surely, the age of those players would factor quite heavily into the value of any contract that they could expect to receive… I just don’t see the Vogelsong analogy as being particularly apt.

  34. If McGowan achieves a total of 1.0 WAR over 2013-14 (which is by no means an unrealistic goal), the Blue Jays will have almost doubled their investment. It seems like more than a reasonable risk to me notwithstanding McGowan’s injury history. I really think that you and Stoeten have made much more of this than was warranted.

    • If there was a likelohood that McGowan could come in and provide replacement level production, while eating up innings, I wouldn’t mind so much, but that’s just not the case.

      • I would suggest to you that you really don’t know one way or the other whether McGowan is likely to be able to provide replacement level innings over the life of the contract.. You are making large assumptions without full knowledge of the facts.

        All we know is that he has been injured for 3 years. That fact in and of itself does not necessarily lead to the inevitable conclusion (which you seem to be drawing) that he will be unable to stay healthy in the future. The Blue Jays front office are the ones who have the benefit of access to McGowan’s full medical records and would have received the medical opinions from their own physicians and others as to McGowan’s health. With the benefit of that information, they seem to think that there is a realistic chance of him remaining healthy and being able to contribute in some manner to the team.

        If you are going to criticize that decision, I think that you need to formulate a better argument than simply saying he has not been healthy since 2008 and therefore he won’t be healthy in 2013-14.

        • Because that is generally what happens to professional athletes, they tend to get healthier as they get older.

          • Drew: Your off the cuff response does not address the point I made in my post – i.e. that the Blue Jays medical staff and front office are the ones with the most complete set of facts upon which to make a decision regarding the likelihood of McGowan’s future health… As to your point (assuming that you were making one), people do tend to become healthier as they get further removed from the time of the injury. Time heals all wounds. He is only 30 years of age. He is no doubt in the decline phase of his career, but he is still not old. He still has potentially several years left on his career.

            Dustin; Sure, it is fair to look at McGowan’s past health history and be concerned about his future health. I share those same concerns. I’d be surprised if AA didn’t also have those same concerns. But I don’t think that we can simply look at his medical history for the past three years and predict his future health in the same way that we can look at a player’s SABR stats for the last three years and see them to help predict his future stats. Much more information is needed than that to give a medical prognosis. You are more or less writing off any chance of future health based solely upon his injury riddled past. That is lazy analysis.

            I don’t understand why you won’t at least acknowledge that the Blue Jays front office has more and better information than you upon which to make a informed decision regarding McGowan’s future health and that perhaps they might be in a better position than you to evaluate the risks associated with this contract.

            • I have no problem acknowledging that. I didn’t think it necessary to attach “based on the information I have” at the end of every opinion I offer.

              For the record, people within the front office asked Anthopoulos why they would want to do this now, so I hardly think such an opinion is crazy.

          • Is Shaun Marcum healthier today at 30 than he was at 27? Was Chris Carpenter healthier at ages 30, 31 and 34. Probably yes. The amazing thing is “squeaky wheel gets the grease” meaning some people actually take better care of themselves when they KNOW they are vulnerable.

            Steve Nash got in better shape as he got older and his performance improved. Why? Because he got scared about his back problems. So, the answer to your glib response is that yes, sometimes athletes are in better shape, have less injuries and perform better as they get older.

            No one can predict the future, and I don’t think this contract says the Jays “know” the future. They are taking a chance, perhaps making a statement to their current players about the organization – “We take care of our own”. Hardly worth the effort you guys are making in assuming you know better than people who actually have real world responsibilities for a $100 million budget (MLB roster plus draft and international signings) along with detailed medical and professional scouting opinions available to them.

          • … Maybe ones that have been injured for the past 3 seasons do, you smartass. You are so good at ignoring the main point that the kind gentleman is trying to make, this is not a typical case of a player plateauing and getting much shittier as he ages. This is a player (who exhibited a tremendous amount of early promise) who is finally getting healthy and beginning to reveal his true form again. Throw the horseshit Keith Law quote out the window, that was made during the first inning when Mc was struggling, and Law himself stated that he looked far better as the game went on. And I really do not see how dictating McGowan’s idosyncracies validates your point… I listen to Bryan Adams on occasion, does that make me a brutal beer league ball player (no, being a brutal beer league player does, there is no connection)? If he still has time to get his reps in at the gym I don’t care how many ‘Nick Fury’ comics he reads. Cmon boys, I expect better out of you guys….

            • … Maybe ones that have been injured for the past 3 seasons do, you smartass. You are so good at ignoring the main point that the kind gentleman is trying to make, this is not a typical case of a player plateauing and getting much shittier as he ages. This is a player (who exhibited a tremendous amount of early promise) who is finally getting healthy and beginning to reveal his true form again.

              This is true. It was true all the other times he nearly came back but got hurt again.

              Throw the horseshit Keith Law quote out the window, that was made during the first inning when Mc was struggling, and Law himself stated that he looked far better as the game went on.

              And I said as much on the podcast yesterday.

              And I really do not see how dictating McGowan’s idosyncracies validates your point… I listen to Bryan Adams on occasion, does that make me a brutal beer league ball player (no, being a brutal beer league player does, there is no connection)? If he still has time to get his reps in at the gym I don’t care how many ‘Nick Fury’ comics he reads. Cmon boys, I expect better out of you guys….

              I quite literally have no idea what you are talking about here.

        • When attempting to predict the future, I think it’s fairly common to look to the past. Given McGowan’s past, what’s the more likely scenario?

          It’s okay to hope that he’ll be healthy, but his past, and its extensive injury history which includes missed time because of damage to several parts of his body, suggest to me that a scenario playing out in which McGowan is able to contribute is incredibly unlikely.

          • The centrally important data in this case is the medial info – info which is rarely available to fans in a meaningful way (and we don’t know how to use it anyway). Without that data, “evaluating” the Jays decision to extend McGowan is just cloud shoveling. You might want to “evaluate”, but sorry, in this case, you can’t without giving up on basic standards of evidence.

            This situation should be looked at the other way around, which is kind of what rdillon99 is doing here. The most viable conclusion is that the medical info available to the Jays is better than we would expect it to be looking strictly at McGowan’s history. How that could be negative for the Jays is beyond me.

          • Dustin, how can you on the one hand acknowledge that the Jays front office has better information than you regarding McGowan’s health and that they are in a better position to evaluate his prospects for staying healthy in the future, while at the same time saying that the their decision to sign him to a 2 year contract “makes little sense” from a health perspective and that because of McGowan’s past health problems it is incredibly unlikely that he could stay healthy long enough to even provide replacement level production? Your argument is not very persuasive.

          • rdillon99, in fairness, medical details are not only thing that anyone outside the team would be privy to. We don’t know how players really are, and how they play. We don’t know what their work-out regimens are. And we don’t know everything of their past that might affect their future play.

            All anyone including Drew, Dustin and Stoeten is being able to discuss what is widely known throughout baseball and analyze using those facts. If they had to refrain from commenting on anything because they didn’t know the entire situation, there would be no blog.

          • With respect, the consensus from the baseball analyst community is that the McGowan deal is a fair one.

            Take time to reflect before overreacting on such issues next time.

  35. FYI…making a $5 mil return on a $3 mil investment over the course of 2 years is an absolutely phenomenal risk-reward scenario.

    Maybe you should have spent more time taking finance course instead of post-modern literary criticism?

    • Exactly… very very hard to see how this is money poorly spent, even before accounting for low opportunity cost (what else can immediately offer a better return profile for $3m invested over 2013 and 2014?).

  36. 100 league average innings between 2013 and 2014 would make this a reasonable signing. There’s certainly no guarantee he even pitches during those years, but it’s a low bar he has to clear. Basically, if he’s healthy for about 25% of the contract and doesn’t completely suck when he pitches, they beak even. If not, it’s a not exactly a major loss. He’s a risky player, but it’s not a particularly risky contract.

  37. McGowan is worth it. You will rue the day you wrote this article.

    CY YOUNG 2013. WORLD SERIES MVP 2013.

  38. Chiming in with the rest of the crowd, but the McGowan deal isn’t a problem at all.

    I think you need to address insurance on contracts in this sport if you’re going to discuss how contractually invested money is lost by way of injury. I expect there is some loss, but with insurance, that loss would be heavily mitigated. I’m not clear, however, on how insurance on contracts works in sport. You guys should do an explainer in that regard.

    I’ll happily take McGowan’s deal over trading for Blanton or Floyd. Worst case, he gets injured all over again. But the more likely scenario is that he turns into a bullpen piece, and contributes between 0.5-1 WAR each year. Jason Frasor 2.0.

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