Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Dustin McGowan, whose season never really got started after a myriad of problems derailed what appeared to be progress in his recovery from yet another injury, has been shut down for the year and scheduled for exploratory arthroscopic surgery on his right shoulder. The prospect of such an event happening was neither unlikely nor unforeseeable.

And here’s why: Dustin McGowan has had a tremendous amount of difficulty staying healthy. This seems to be a point of contention among Blue Jays fans, but it shouldn’t be. Writing about these difficulties isn’t akin to criticism of the player. No one is questioning his drive to get healthy or work ethic in preventing harm. He’s merely been dealt a shitty hand in the card game of genetics. His body simply can’t stand up to the rigors of practicing and performing baseball at the Major League level.

This isn’t based on assumptions or on the recommendations of medical degrees procured online. We know he has a hard time staying healthy based on his health history, which at the professional baseball level, began in 2004, when the top prospect in the Blue Jays organization suffered his first serious injury.  Pitching for Double A New Hampshire, 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 right and left-arm shittiness. We remember you, Tomo Ohka and John Thomson.

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 at the end of the 2011 season to appear in the Majors for the first time since 2008, actually starting four games for the Blue Jays. At the beginning of this season, he entered Spring Training with a real chance of keeping his place in the rotation, but once again suffered an injury, this time to his foot.

Strangely, it was at this time the Toronto Blue Jays announced that McGowan had signed a three-year extension that replaced the contract he had already signed for 2012. The new deal guaranteed the pitcher $4.1 million despite his making a grand total of five big league appearances since July 8th, 2008.  Despite the inexpensive terms, I hated the deal at the time, and I hate it now.

Trying to find a reason to defend the timing of such an offer from the  Blue Jays, I could only imagine that the front office didn’t want McGowan rushing back from rehab to earn himself another contract. With a deal already in place, he could take his time, and not push himself through 2012, which would only help his long-term progress. Such thinking would’ve been a lot easier to defend if it weren’t for the third year of the deal or a fourth year club option that pays him an additional $500,000 if it’s not picked up.

From there, McGowan was shut down after the minor foot injury proved to be a more serious case of plantar fasciitis than what was originally thought. Then, in April McGowan again started experiencing pain in his shoulder, and his rehab was temporarily shut down. This was followed by yet another setback in June when pain was once again felt in his throwing shoulder. And now, we deal with today’s surgery announcement.

This is merely the latest in a long, long line of bad news for McGowan, and at this point such announcements have become somewhat anticipatory. It’s difficult to imagine any result from the exploratory surgery to be the least bit surprising: from finding that he’s perfect fine to the discovery of a minion of mini-demons inhabiting the pitcher’s blood and wreaking havoc on all his muscles, bones and sinews.

This is simply what Dustin McGowan both has become and always was. It’s our expectations and management’s transactions that suggested something more, so if there’s any disappointment to be had, it should be in that and nothing else.

Forgive the Lehrering in parts of this article detailing McGowan’s injury history, we’ve been over it a few times.

Comments (18)

  1. There’s no chance teams can try to get money back from contracts, is there? No way the MLBPA would allow it… goddamn this is just ridiculous…

    • There is insurance, but I’m not sure if there’s one on this specific contract given McGowan’s history. I also seem to remember the Jays front office saying something about limiting insurance purchases because they seldom work out.

  2. Actually Dustin, if you fact check, you’ll find that McGowan was drafted with the elbow ligament issue and the TOR org knew it would be an issue for down the road. I recall Ricciardi talking about it with Baseball America back in ’04.

  3. Would love to see Dustin come back and be the star he was going to be. Parkes is right – damn injuries!

    –Oshawa Ollie

  4. This is petty. The club took a risk and the outcome so far looks pretty grim. The opportunity cost was minimal.

    Take the value of a number 3 or 4 starter and then discount that value heavily by about 80% for injury history.

    Roster spot has not been an issue.

    From what I heard during spring training, Dustin’s bullpen sessions were raising eyebrows. Injury past is a huge factor but not a guarentee of injury future and you have to factor in upside risk.

    If McGowan had put up a big first half, you’re not getting this same “call option” type deal and you’re still walking around with the same injury risk.

    Be angry about something more costly. Preferably something that doesn’t speak well of the club’s intentions.

  5. Couldn’t this article have been summed up in “I told you so” and be done with it?

  6. This move continues to baffle me.

  7. Yes, it was a risk that didn’t pay off. But really, what is there to hate, and what did the Jays *really* lose in signing the deal, and what do they still stand to lose? $1.5M in 2012? $1.5M in 2013? Who cares.

    It’s clear that the $1.5 M invested in 2012 didn’t hamper the Jays in their draft process. They spent to their limit, paying tax and not giving up a draft pick. It’s clear it didn’t hamper them in the international market, as they spent pretty much to their cap before having to rescind a contract due to a failed physical. Don’t try and argue that the $1.5 in 2012 cost them signing a free agent, or that the $1.5M invested will hurt them in the coming off season. he got hurt and was placed on the DL and didn’t cost anyone a roster spot.

    What did they stand to gain? The possibility he might be able to pitch (didn’t work). Goodwill towards the player and agent. Some may scoff, but goodwill is a real, tangible thing in business, as it would also be in baseball and is something that could pay unexpected dividends down the road.

    To me, this seems like a clear case of searching for something to be critical of. Be critical of Ben Francisco occupying a roster spot. Be critical of Vizquel occupying a roster spot. Be critical of signing a clearly declined Cordero. But to “hate” a deal that rewards a player for perservance that had (an acknowledgedly remote) chance of upside? Bah, who cares?

  8. You can also look at it as a long-term investment in player development.

    I kept re-typing what I meant but it never became as elegant as I wanted it to, so I’ll just try brevity: in the draft a hypothetical injured top flight prospect may opt to sign with the Jays in a later round because he sees this contract and knows that the Jays are willing to take a risk on/take care of their (once) top flight prospects.

    We know the Jays are heavily invested in player development and upgrading the farm system. Maybe the contract was just another way to invest?

  9. I keep thinking about Al Leiter. Jays waited for him and his health issues long-term and then he bolted.

    Dustin Leiter. I know that. Leiter had blisters. McGowan has gone through years of awful. But I keep thinking of it for some reason.

    I fervishly want to be wrong.

    • Apparently you can not use “does not equal” signs in comments. That should say “Dustin DOES NOT EQUAL Leiter.”

  10. Hate is such a strong word, Mr. Parkes. Do you really “hate” the contract? A lot of effort there.

    You should reserve your hate for things like the $57.9 million your SF Giants paid for a 4 year cumulative WAR of 1.9 for Aaron Rowand. FUCKING INSANE.

    Do you HATE the $7.5 million over 1.5 seasons the Jays have paid Mark Teahen? (basically to acquire Rasmus). Are we adding that amount to Rasmus’ salary to judge his “value” to this team?

    The Jays spent $600K on Kellen Sweeney, who as far as I can tell will never amount to anything.

    We have been over this ground so many times it is ridiculous; tough to get FAs to TO without overpaying, here is a guy who is in a difficult spot himself so AA rolls the dice, buys the scratch and win, takes a gamble basically – it McGowan can’t put up 0.8 WAR between now and October 2014, then you may be right in your “dislike” of this contract. But HATE, holy fuck, reserve that for some really egregious squander and frivolity.

    • +1. Hate is a strong word to describe the contract.

      Barry Zito’s contract on the other hand, now that is a contract one could learn to hate.

  11. FUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK OFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF PARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRKES!

    Ugh. You write like Griff.

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