Mailbag: McGowan set for start of '09?

Mailbag: McGowan set for start of '09?

Is there any chance that Blue Jays starter Dustin McGowan will be recovered and ready for the start of the 2009 season? Will he be at Spring Training?
--Rob S., Sudbury, Ontario

McGowan, who had season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in July, will indeed be at Spring Training, and he's already started his throwing program. As for being ready to re-join Toronto's rotation in time for Opening Day, it's highly doubtful that McGowan will be cleared to start for the Jays that soon.

Barring any setbacks, it's more likely that McGowan is given the go-ahead to move back into the Jays' rotation some time in May or June. Could he be ready for the onset of the regular season? Perhaps. But, even if he's feeling great, McGowan said in November that he expects Toronto to take every precaution with his recovery.

"I'm always shooting to start the season," McGowan said shortly before beginning his offseason throwing routine. "The way I feel now, I feel like I'll be ready. But, from their standpoint, I can understand if they want to take it a little bit slower to make sure everything heals up perfectly."

Besides, the state of the Jays' rotation depends partly on a full recovery for McGowan. After losing A.J. Burnett to the Yankees in free agency, McGowan becomes the best in-house option to slide into the No. 2 spot on the staff. Shoulder injuries can be unpredictable, so the Jays will want to make sure McGowan is completely healthy before bringing him back.

Until McGowan doesn't return in time for the start of the season, Toronto's projected opening starting rotation will consist of ace Roy Halladay, right-hander Jesse Litsch, left-hander David Purcey and two others. The candidates for the last two spots include Casey Janssen, Matt Clement, Brett Cecil, Ricky Romero, Scott Richmond, Brad Mills, Scott Downs and Brian Tallet.

When will the Jays set their payroll for 2009? We are less than two months away from Spring Training and the Jays seem to have no direction in terms of if they are buyers or sellers. This holding pattern seems to be affecting their ability to sign free agents and make trades.
-- Andrew W., St. Catharines, Ontario

Toronto's "holding pattern" seems to be more a result of knowing what their payroll is going to be, as opposed to not knowing. It's believed that the Blue Jays plan on operating on a budget of around $84 million this season after having a payroll of around $97 million during the 2008 campaign.

With roughly $70 million, including signing bonuses, committed in payroll to 11 players for the upcoming season -- that's excluding Toronto's arbitration-eligible players and the controllable players due for a raise -- the Jays don't have much money to spend. In order to sign a top-tier free agent, Toronto would need to free up payroll.

What are the chances of the Jays trading first baseman Lyle Overbay and putting Travis Snider at first and keeping Adam Lind in left?
--Josh B., Barrie, Ontario

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If the Jays do add an arm or a bat and need to clear up some payroll, Overbay would be one candidate to be moved. He's owed $14 million over the next two seasons and has suffered offensively over the past two years due to issues with his right wrist. As for Snider and Lind, you've got the situation reversed.

The Jays prefer Snider in left field and plan to use Lind more often as the designated hitter this season. Lind will also see some action at first base this spring -- not Snider. Even if Overbay remains in the fold, Toronto will be in the market for a first baseman come 2011, and the team is interested to see if Lind can handle the position.

Given that the Blue Jays lost Burnett to the Yankees and they still desperately need starting pitching, what would be the likelihood of Toronto signing either Derek Lowe or Ben Sheets?
-- Duran S., North Bay, Ontario

Unless something changes on the financial front for the Blue Jays, the club won't be involved in the bidding for Lowe or Sheets. Toronto will continue to look into low-risk, high-reward reclamation projects, and the club will keep an eye on which less expensive free agents remain unsigned throughout January and into Spring Training.

Do you think catching prospect J.P. Arencibia could make the Major League roster out of Spring Training, or do you think the Jays will look for a backup via free agency?
-- Mark M., Streetsville, Ontario

Arencibia "could" make Toronto's roster out of Spring Training, sure. Will he? Probably not. The Jays are grooming Arencibia to be their everyday catcher down the road, so the club would prefer to have him playing regularly with Triple-A Las Vegas to begin this season. Toronto will likely look to free agency for a veteran backup.

Is there any action on the free-agent market for former Jays catcher Gregg Zaun?
-- George M., Ottawa

It's been reported that several teams have shown interest in Zaun. One known suitor is Baltimore, which could use the veteran catcher to work with highly touted Orioles prospect Matt Wieters. The Blue Jays have no intention of bringing Zaun back for a sixth season.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.