Pardon me for not bubbling over with glee at what seems to be Dustin McGowan’s imminent big league return.
I know I probably should be, especially if I’m the Blue Jays. Dustin McGowan has made nearly $3 million over the last four years, logging only 21 innings during that stretch. That’s a hell of a lot of money for such a small body of work. If I’m the Jays, I need to see him in the big leagues in order to justify all the time and money spent to get him fixed.
Or maybe I don’t. Maybe the money spent to retain baseball’s poster child for the injury-prone player really isn’t about McGowan at all.
Maybe it’s about another pitcher, one that, through eerily similar circumstances, burned the Jays so badly they’ll never make the same mistake again, no matter how much it costs.
Of course, I speak of Chris Carpenter.
Carpenter, after showing flashes of brilliance with the Jays in 2000 and 2001, tore his labrum in 2002 and required season-ending surgery.
Bear in mind, 2002 was two years before Will Carrol wrote “Labrum, It Nearly Killed Him,” an article for Slate that focused on how low the success rate for labrum surgery was for pitchers. The article, citing the frustration and confusion doctors had at the time with labrum issues, made the cruel but factually supported statement that “if pitchers with torn labrums were horses, they’d be destroyed.”
With the dangers of labrum surgery in mind, J.P. Ricciardi took Carpenter off the 40-man roster during the off-season and offered him a low ball, minor league and incentives deal to re-sign. Carpenter said "no," the Cardinals said "yes," the enigma of Carpenter’s labrum was solved and the rest is history.
The Blue Jays lost a three-time All Star, Cy Young winner, World Series Champion, 1,348 innings of 3.04 ERA baseball and 95 wins.
I’m told that, like Carpenter, when McGowan was a younger, healthier man, he showed flashes of brilliance. But that’s where the similarities end.
While McGowan, at one time, threw harder than Carpenter, Carpenter is not a diabetic, which is often associated with reduced physical recovery time. Carpenter never had as many medical issues in the prime years of his career. Carpenter threw three times as many innings as McGowan did before his first major injury, 870 versus 353, possibly suggesting, even early on, that McGowan was destined for injury.
Yes, McGowan’s return is a positive thing, but it is highly unlikely he’ll ever produce at the level he did in the past. Look at how many pitchers drop off season-to-season then look at McGowan, who hasn’t seen consistent major league action in four years and had multiple surgeries.
The Jays probably won’t put McGowan in the starting rotation again, seeing as he is about as resilient as fine porcelain. Even in the pen, he’ll be tracked and regulated more intensely than his peers and sent out in limited stretches.
The bottom line: McGowan’s effectiveness is limited.
Still, if McGowan does perform, even in limited samples, he does have good stuff for relatively cheap. He throws in the mid-90s and has better command than some of the other hard-throwing arms with the Blue Jays.
While you’ll probably be crossing your fingers every time he takes the mound, chances are it won’t be because you’re worried about him throwing strikes.
You don’t see arms like McGowan’s very often, and keeping one in your system warrants a few extra chances to get healthy. And McGowan finally making it back to the big leagues is a feel good story. I get it. But his chances have got to be up now, no? And I really don’t need another feel good story this season, I need results.
McGowan needs them too. Take away the ghost of Chris Carpenter and McGowan may have never received the opportunities he has. In fact, there aren’t many players in baseball that could receive those chances after posting the stats McGowan has – a career 4.80 ERA with 350 innings pitched is worth four years on the disabled list?
This is probably why McGowan has such a legend around him. After all, only a legend could miss four years and still sign a multi-million dollar extension, right? Well, legend or not, now that he’s returned, he needs to make up for lost time.
McGowan’s got good stuff, and hopefully he’ll make the most of it. If not, I don’t think the Jays will be as sympathetic the next time he says “ouch.”