Dustin McGowan is possibly one of the most frustrating players to ever have donned a Toronto Blue Jays uniform. Talk about an enigma, his never-ending trips to the disabled list have caught the ire of Blue Jays faithful in recent years. It’s come to a point now that even as he’s finally healthy some fans couldn’t care less if he was designated for assignment to make room for the soon-to-return Jose Reyes.
But is it fair to write Dustin McGowan off already?
His career, like so many similarly unfortunate baseball players before him, has mimicked Shakespearean tragedy at it’s best. There was a time the former first round pick stood out from the crowd. His arsenal was packed with four very good pitches that all were incredibly refined for a young starter. He had a fastball in the mid-to-high 90’s to go along with an electric slider and knee-buckling curve. Arguably Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez type stuff.
But McGowan never lived up to his potential. Riddled by injury after injury, the now 31-year old has made nine appearances over the past five seasons. What good is it to have this type of repertoire if you can’t stay healthy enough to even make it to the mound?
In case you missed it, Drew Fairservice from theScore’s Getting Blanked did an excellent piece on McGowan earlier this year. Baseball is a beautiful game but can be cruel to some of it’s biggest talents. The video of McGowan’s most recent start still gets me excited – he struck out eight and hit 98 MPH on the radar gun as recently as September 21, 2011.
Many people were surprised when the Jays chose to extend McGowan for another three years in March 2012. He didn’t throw a single pitch in 2012 and underwent surgery again in August. The contract he signed works out to be worth $1.5 million per season in 2013 and 2014, plus a $4 million team option for 2015 with a $500,000 buyout option. It does seem like a lot of money for a guy who recently has appeared at a semi-annual rate for the Jays the past five years but these days it’s not an atrocious contract.
The bullpen has been a noted area of strength for the Blue Jays this year so it’s been suggested there’s perhaps not much use of keeping him around. With the Jays finally getting some much-needed quality starting pitching it appears eight relievers will no longer be required (if they ever were in the first place). McGowan doesn’t have a Minor League option so the Jays would need to designate him for assignment, which would require him to clear waivers and also accept the assignment (he does owe them for all that rehab so it’s doubtful he would ever decline but it is a possibility).
It can be tough to gauge possible interest on a waiver-bound player (eg. Alex Rios, 2009) so if the Jays do want to keep McGowan in the organization they run the risk of another team taking a chance on him if he’s exposed. Some may think that cutting McGowan loose wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, at least then he’s somebody else’s problem, but in my opinion McGowan is still too talented an arm to risk losing for absolutely nothing.
McGowan has yet to impress this year in limited work but after his extended layoff it should be expected for him to be a bit rusty out of the gate. McGowan allowed two home runs so his ERA is a bit out to lunch but has shown he still has the ability to strike out batters as evidenced by his 10.9 SO/9 (over a very limited 3.1 IP). FanGraphs has his average fastball velocity still close to 95 MPH and still topping out at almost 98 MPH. So once he gets some more innings under his belt I wouldn’t be surprised to see some more McGowan nastiness in the very near future.
His health will forever be a concern but for a player that has suffered this many setbacks in his career its a near-miracle that McGowan is even still trying. The Blue Jays have already rejuvenated the careers of Casey Janssen and Brett Cecil by moving them to the bullpen. My hope as a Blue Jays fan is that they can turn Dustin McGowan into another former starter turned bullpen ace.