03/27/12 12:36 PM ET
Blue Jays recognize risk, reward with McGowan
Talent, potential outweigh health concerns in contract extension
By Gregor Chisholm / MLB.com
McGowan, whose new deal won't take effect until the 2013 season, signed a two-year contract worth $3 million. The signing also includes an option year in 2015 valued at $4 million, which can be bought out for $500,000.
The extension for a pitcher who has thrown just 21 innings in the past three years came as somewhat of a surprise, but the price tag and upside of talent was too much for general manager Alex Anthopoulos to pass up.
"I'd be lying through my teeth if I said there isn't a risk," Anthopoulos said of McGowan, who has undergone three major surgeries in the past four years. "Of course there are health concerns, of course there's risk, that's just a reality of what he has gone through.
"But in this division, with what we're up against and what we're trying to do, we have to take a little bit more risk, or maybe a lot more risk than a lot of the other teams, and that's part of it. But I'll take the risk on the right human being, and if you bet on the human being, you're going to be fine."
The Blue Jays first approached McGowan about the possibility for a contract extension two weeks ago. The feeling was that the club wanted to take its time building McGowan back up to full strength following years of rehab and didn't want to risk losing him as a free agent at the end of the season.
In a way, it allows the Blue Jays to avoid repeating the same mistakes that occurred earlier in the franchise's history, with Chris Carpenter and Al Leiter. Toronto invested a lot of time and money in both pitchers early in their careers, only to see them depart via free agency once fully healthy.
Both starters went on to become All-Stars, and Toronto had nothing to show for its efforts. That was well before Anthopoulos' time with the Blue Jays. The GM said those two scenarios didn't factor into his decision, but he can take comfort in knowing that McGowan is under contract at a reasonable rate for up to the next four seasons.
"From our standpoint, he's going to need to be built up over time," Anthopoulos said. "I don't think he's going to go to 200 innings or whatnot during the year. Knowing that we're going to take him carefully and slowly, build him up, we wanted to be sure he was going to be here for a certain amount of time.
"That was something we requested and wanted, and it was just a matter of coming up with what the right dollars were in terms of the option and everything else."
There's an element of risk to the deal for McGowan as well. If he comes back this season and rediscovers some of his old form that saw him strike out 144 batters in 169 2/3 innings in 2007, the native of Savannah, Ga., could have been in line for a nice payday at the end of the year.
Instead, McGowan said he decided to sign the deal because of the guaranteed dollars, and also because he owed something to the organization that stuck with him through two major shoulder surgeries and one knee surgery since 2008.
"They were very loyal to me, so I have to be loyal too," said McGowan, who is 20-24 with a 4.80 ERA in his career. "It works both ways. It was one of those things where I had to sit down with my wife, we talked about it, and at the end of the day, when I lay my head down to sleep at night, there's no regrets whatsoever.
"Even if I go out and have two or three great years, people might say, 'Well, what you signed for, it wasn't enough.' To me, it doesn't matter. I made the deal, I'm going to stick to the deal, and in my mind, I made the right deal."
The contract is another chapter in what has been a remarkable road to recovery for McGowan. The 30-year-old was taken in the supplemental round of the 2000 First-Year Player Draft by then GM Gord Ash and quickly emerged as one of the organization's top pitching prospects.
Tommy John surgery in 2004 temporarily derailed his quest for the Majors, but McGowan did eventually break into the league in 2005. By 2007, he was the club's most promising young hurler and proceeded to go 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA in 27 starts.
McGowan followed that up in 2008 with another strong start to the year, but disaster struck in July of that year when he was forced to leave a game against the Orioles with pain in his right shoulder. It took more than three years and three surgeries before McGowan would make his return.
Along the way, there were plenty of low points and moments of doubt about whether he would ever put on a Blue Jays uniform again.
"Spending three years down here, it was like 'Groundhog Day,'" McGowan said from Dunedin, where he rehabbed from his various injuries. "You'd have days where you'd just go out and throw and be like, 'Man, I just had surgery and this still doesn't feel good.' But you go out there the next day and have a little bit of zip on the ball, and things felt good, and that gave hope and gave me confidence, too. That always put [in] my mind that things were going to be better and I'd get through it."
McGowan hit another road block this spring, when he was diagnosed with plantar fasciitis in his right foot. He was removed from a Minor League game on Sunday with the injury and is currently day to day, but he could miss the start of the season.
Despite the setback, the injury isn't expected to cause any long-term effects for the 2012 campaign, and if there was any doubt about that, it was removed with the contract extension and McGowan's take on the injury: "It's alright, it's just a foot. It's getting better, and I'm sure it's going to continue to get better."
Aaron Laffey or Kyle Drabek could keep McGowan's spot in the rotation warm until he works his way back. Once there, the Blue Jays hope it's for good, and either way they believe they have set an example for the entire organization with Monday's signing.
"Now you start lining up in the rotation with a [Ricky] Romero, [Brandon] Morrow, a McGowan," Anthopoulos said. "All have great ability, but the way they carry themselves, the way they handle themselves, the way they go about it day in and day out, for all the young kids that continue to come, we've now really set up a formula and a module for how this is going to be done, and these guys are going to impact everyone else."