Scouting The Free Agent Market: Bartolo Colon

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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.

The Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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.

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  • TWTR

    I think he makes sense for one year.

    • I’m One

      If the price were lower, I would agree. However I wouldn’t want his contract to possibly impact what could be offered to Tanaka. Ideally, the Yankees get 2 starting pitchers (Tanaka & ?) with the second being somone relatively cheap on a 1 year deal. Colon doesn’t seem to be cheap ($10M?!?!) and I’m a bit concerned (as theonewhoknocks metions below) that pitching in Oakland may have made him look a bit better than he would be back at YS III.

      • TWTR

        I agree about the Tanaka impact, but if they want to win, both would help, and Tanaka could face an adjustment period that could be at odds with winning now, so having a veteran like Colon helps there too.

    • Tisha

      Just the thought of him coming back makes me want to lose my lunch.

      • Jim Is A (Bored) Peckerhead

        I think he’ll be happy to take it off your hands

  • Theonewhoknocks

    I think Colon benefitted a bit from pitching in Oakland. Back in Yankee stadium in the AL east and a year older I’m not too confident he can come close to his numbers of the past couple years. I’d expect him to give us 160-180 slightly above average innings, which is useful but I think with Kuroda and CC slipping we need more upside out of whoever is the guy we bring in.

    That’s why I’ve been pulling for Tanaka but if it comes down to the Garza, Ubaldo, Santana, Colon group I’d vote to pass on all of them and pull off a trade.

  • Vern Sneaker

    What I’m really hoping for (no doubt unrealistically) is that our fifth pitcher competition yields a #4 and a #5 — two of Pineda, Phelps, Warren, and Nuno. There’s some talent there.

    • mitch

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable that two of those guys could become worthy starting pitchers, but you can’t go into the season needing that to happen.

  • Rick

    Phillies want to trade Hamels without eating salary. A B level prospect in exchange for the contract?

    • SDB

      Hell yes!

    • mitch

      Don’t think that would get it done unless Philly is really looking to dump the contract. He’s got 5/112 left on his deal (or 6/136 if you include the option). I think he’d probably get at least 6/150 if he were a free agent this year.

  • TheEvilUmpire

    Nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-nuh-BARTDAY!

  • HectorLopez

    Why would anybody pay this guy 10mil? I would rather get a colonoscopy than sign Colon. This guy sucks!!!!!!!!

    • TheEvilUmpire

      You misspelled the world “rocks”

    • Kosmo

      5 WAR in 2013 2.7 WAR in 2012 2.1 WAR in 2011. He does not ´´suck“. His age and health are question marks not his ability.

  • Darren

    Pelfrey’s an interesting name. Bartolo’s age and price scare me (assuming we’re stil aiming for $189mm). What’s Pelfrey’s status? Any chance he’d sign a low dollars deal ($3mm?) to reprove his ability?

  • Kosmo

    Colon Home/Away splits:
    2013-
    Home- 8-3WL 2.58 ERA
    Away- 10-3WL 2.73 ERA

    2012
    Home 5-6 WL 3.54 ERA
    Away 5-3 WL 3.27 ERA

    so the Oakland Coliseum was not a factor. Colon in 2011 w/ NY did pitch better on the road.

    I like Colon but not for 10 million, something like 7-8 mil 1 year.

    • Kosmo

      I might add NY is paying Ichiro and Wells close to 9 million combined for 2014.

  • Mick taylor

    No to colon. Not another ped user. I do think yanks suspect cano is a ped user. For 6 years cano was a shittyhitter and a non prospect. Arizona did not want him in a tradefor an old Randy Johnson in 2004 because they thought he was not a prospect . Cano then morphs into a great major league hitter. Either the scouts were wrong and minor league stats. do not matter or cano had been on peds like his buddies melky and big papi ortiz all theseyears.

    • mitch

      I’ll be honest…the idea that the Yankees were worried about Cano potentially getting popped for PEDs has crossed my mind. However, that’s only due to his association to the roid crew and rumored links to the lab. Attributing his success to PEDs is going way too far.

      • cashjr

        I’ve wondered for years whether Robbie was getting some help with PEDs. Just looking at his body type over the past few years reminds me of AROD so many years ago when he was really dominating. Just look at him compared to other 2B’s and he looks like a football player, just like AROD in his prime when compared to most other SS’s (not counting guys like Tejada of course). Unfortunately this is a sign of the times, even if he’s clean (which he probably is) he arouses suspicion if only because he is (and looks) so good. Also in the unlikely event that he did get some help, I would be the last to blame him – just like I never blamed Giambi – just look at the reward Giambi got! Especially back then, you’d have to be crazy not to get some help.

  • Dicka24

    No to Colon unless it’s for a bargain basement type deal. The wheels are going to fall off that wagon real quick imo. He’s on the sauce. Be it suspension, or age, buyer beware.

    I saw the Phillies report too. Hamels and Lee are on the market apparently. I highly doubt Hamels is a salary dump type deal. He’s a bonafied ace in his prime, signed long term at what is now decent dollars. He will cost more than the Yankees can pay. I don’t think the Yanks can put together a package for him. If they could, I’d do it ASAP.

    Lee is the more attainable arm of the two for the Yankees. He’s older, makes a ton, and is closer to a salary dump than Hamels ever will be. That’s not to say he won’t cost some pieces, but his price I think the Yanks could meet. The question is, what would Lee’s annual money mean for Operation 189? His avg is what, $25 million per?

    If I’m the Yankees, I’d consider throwing Operation 189 out the window, if I could land one of Hamels or Lee. Especially if they could also land Tanaka too. Imagine a rotation of:

    CC
    Hamels or Lee
    Kuroda
    Tanaka
    Nova

    That would be a World Series contending rotation for sure.

    • Dicka24

      I forgot about Pineda. The Yanks could use Nova to try to get Hamels, and slot Pineda in that 5 spot.

      • Kosmo

        Kinda interesting, Lee was traded 3 times from 6/09 to 7/10 netted about 12 players for the teams that traded him and not 1 ! has amounted to anything.

        I wonder what 2 years of Lee or 5 years of Hamel would cost NY ?

  • Jersey Joe

    His value is too high at this point. I will not spend over $8,000,000 on a 40 year old. Unless it’s Mo. Maybe Pettitte. And Jeter. And A-Rod, soon.

    [Sigh]

  • csonk

    I’d get Colon in a heartbeat. He’s better today than any of the Pitcher’s mentioned – unless jiminez somehow finds control/consistency.
    They’d still need to go hard after Tanaka (who is one year of feeling out ‘real baseball’ before he amounts to any value), AND try to create a package for Hamels.
    We currently have:
    CC – many are unrealistically counting on a MAJOR comeback from him – he was a #2 2 years ago! We NEED an ACE.
    Kuroda – fizzles in August
    Nova – who the hell knows what he is (pretty good? / really bad? )
    Phelps, Warren, Nuno, Pineda – roster fodder (Pineda has hope/upside)
    ….and all that amounts to NOT MUCH!!!

  • JoeyA

    Said this to Mike via twitter a few days ago:

    I think NYY should make a run at Jose Quintana, former NYY farmhand.

    He had a great season last yr w the WSox and is said to be available this year.

    His peripherals are all good and he has been using his change-up more than in years past, almost twice as much in fact.

    seems like a good 3/4 SP option

  • Eselquetodolosabe

    Edison Volquez was a special, young talent not too long ago. Has it been all injuries with Edison, or what ?

  • JGYank

    I’d pass. Not in good shape and injury prone, doesn’t get Ks or grounders, is 40, had a PED suspension, lefties have hit him hard in the past which will kill him in YS, would go from Oakland in a pitchers park in the AL West to YS in the AL East, and relies completely on fastballs and if his velocity drops he doesn’t have anything else to rely on.