March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher Dustin McGowan (29) poses for a portrait during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Dustin McGowan inks unexpected extension with Blue Jays

In a move that absolutely no one saw coming, including the club’s PR department according to Mike Wilner on Twitter, Dustin McGowan and the Blue Jays have agreed on a two-year contract extension at a salary of $1.5 million per. The deal also includes a $4 million club option for the 2015  season.

The timing of the move is most surprising, considering the team was far from being forced into such a decision and that McGowan, a first-round pick by the Blue Jays almost 12 years ago, has pitched a total of 21 innings in the last three years.

That being said, and assuming that the McGowan’s new deal confirms that he is in fact healthy, the Jays have potentially saved themselves money by locking up a once-promising right-hander at a very team-friendly salary. Making $600,000 this season, McGowan was scheduled to become a free agent at season’s end, and would have been in a good bargaining position with teams if he was to have a successful 2012 season. Those are some big ifs, though, to bank on a 30-year-old with a severe injury history to not only stay healthy, but throw the best season of his career.

At any rate, the money is far from the concern with McGowan’s contract, but rather the roster spot that he will now occupy until the end of the 2014 season. With McGowan in the fold, along with Ricky Romero and Brandon Morrow, the Jays now have 60% of their rotation nearly set in stone for the next three years.

The Jays, however, have perhaps the most star-studded lineup of pitching prospects in the Majors, a group that is barreling closer to The Show every day. True, not all of them are going to play for the Jays, but surely Alex Anthopoulos, a GM who values flexibility and alternative options more than any other, would want to keep as much of his starting rotation open as possible going forward given that he has such an impressive assortment of pitching talent on the way.

As soon as this season, a considerable number of pitching prospects are close to knocking on the door; what I would call the first wave. Henderson Alvarez has already been tabbed the Jays’ No. 4 starter, but Kyle Drabek, Drew Hutchison, Deck McGuire and Chad Jenkins are all within striking distance in the higher levels of the minors.

Then there’s an entire second wave of guys that will all begin the 2012 campaign at A-ball or higher, like Noah Syndergaard, Justin Nicolino, Aaron Sanchez and Asher Wojciechowski, followed by a third wave of hurlers in the lower minors like Adonys Cardona, Daniel Norris, Kevin Comer and John Stilson. Needless to say, the Jays have quite the sustainable feeding system to their rotation, a rotation that is already going to get crowded at the end of this season, let alone in 2013 or 2014.

McGowan’s contract, though, is far from an albatross and his occupying of a roster spot won’t handcuff the Jays in anything they do going forward. Whether it’s pulling the trigger on a trade, pursuing free-agent starter or giving a youngster with a high ceiling a shot, McGowan certainly won’t stand in the way of the right player or the right opportunity.

In the meantime,  however, Anthopoulos has stockpiled yet another pitcher in McGowan, one that could develop into an asset for the club even as a back-end starter. It’s obviously hard to understand the timing and reasoning for the deal, but it’s also just as hard to understand why this contract could be viewed as a bad idea at all for the Blue Jays.

-JM

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