Scouting The Free Agent Market: Bartolo ColonBy
The Yankees have already re-signed Hiroki Kuroda and they will conduct a fifth starter’s competition in Spring Training, but they still need to add another starter on top of that. There’s a chance Masahiro Tanaka will not be posted, but, even if he is, it might not happen anytime soon. Negotiations and finalization of the new posting agreement have dragged on for a while. The Yankees have been connected to him but it’s unclear how long they’re willing to wait.
The best available free agent starters right now are Matt Garza, Ervin Santana, and Ubaldo Jimenez, all of whom come with red flags. Garza was hurt the last two years, Santana was terrible in 2012, and Jimenez was terrible as recently as the All-Star break. It seems like those guys are in something of a holding pattern until the Tanaka situation is resolved, which isn’t all that surprising. He’s the more desirable target. Earlier today we heard New York checked in on with Garza and Jimenez, but nothing on Santana yet.
Rather than hand out another huge contract this offseason, the Yankees could opt for a lower cost starter on a one-year contract if Tanaka is not posted anytime soon (or at all). Another Kuroda type, basically. One of the top such available pitchers is 40-year-old former Yankee Bartolo Colon, who is coming off two very good years with the Athletics (2.99 ERA and 3.49 FIP), good enough that he’s priced himself out of Oakland. Is a reunion for 2014 a good idea? Let’s look at what he brings to the table.
- Colon pounds the zone and does it with fastballs almost exclusively. He has thrown 87.1% fastballs — 36.4% four-seamers and 50.7% two-seamers — during his two years in Oakland while barely throwing his slider (8.2%) and changeup (4.7%). Colon’s veocity (four-seamer and two-seamer) had held pretty steady these last two years despite his advanced baseball age.
- Bart has been an extreme strike-thrower these last two years. He has a 1.37 BB/9 (3.7 BB%) over the last two seasons, and during that time he led all of baseball by throwing 59.7% of his pitches in the strike zone. Cliff Lee is a distant second at 57.4%. That “pound the zone with fastballs” approach has led to a lot of weak contact and few balls hit further than 300 feet.
- Since resurrecting his career with the Yankees in 2011, Colon has put together back-to-back 150+ inning seasons. He threw 190.1 innings in 2013 and he would have thrown a similar amount in 2012 had he not been suspended in mid-August. Bart will chew up from innings for you.
- The Athletics did not make Colon a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him.
- Colon neither strikes guys out nor gets ground balls. He had a steady 5.46 K/9 (14.8 K%) during his two years in Oakland — hitters made contact with 88.5% of their swings, the highest rate in baseball since 2012 — and his ground ball rate dropped from 45.7% in 2012 to only 41.5% in 2013.
- Although lefties did not give Bartolo a problem this past season (lefties had a .297 wOBA, righties .281), they did hit him hard from 2011-2012. Colon held righties to a .245/.275/.330 (.265 wOBA) batting line during those two seasons while lefties tagged him for a .283/.326/.505 (.355 wOBA) line. That would be a problem in Yankee Stadium.
- Injuries have been an issue since Colon returned in 2011. He has been on the DL in each of the last three seasons because of a hamstring strain (2011), an oblique strain (2012), and a groin strain (2013). At least none were arm injuries, I guess.
- As I mentioned before, Colon was suspended 50 games in 2012 (the suspension carried over into early 2013) after failing a performance-enhancing drug test. He was connected to Biogenesis this summer but wasn’t suspended since he had already been disciplined. PED guys are always a bit of a question mark.
Jon Heyman reported yesterday that the market for Colon has been heating up, with the Orioles and Mets among the interested teams. The Yankees have not been connected to him. Heyman adds that if Colon takes a one-year contract (likely given his age), it’ll be for pretty big bucks, around $10M or so. He won’t come as cheap as he has the last three years now that he’s shown a) the arm problems are a thing of the past, and b) he can be an effective starter in the AL.
Among the free agent pitchers who are likely to take a one (or even two) year contract, Colon appears to be the best. That crop of players includes Bronson Arroyo, Erik Bedard, Chris Capuano, Paul Maholm, Mike Pelfrey, and Edinson Volquez. There are obvious red flags here — Colon’s arm could explode or he could simply stop getting guys out, among other things — probably more red flags than any other available pitcher who was actually good in 2013. The Yankees know Bart and he knows them, so there is some type of relationship in place and that could help spur along a deal. Colon does fits the team’s needs but boy is he risky.