What Went Right: Bartolo Colon

Over the next few weeks, we’re going to look back at what went right, what went wrong, and what went as expected during the 2011 campaign.

Like a boss. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

The panic set in as soon as Cliff Lee agreed to rejoin the Phillies in early-December, and then it multiplied when Andy Pettitte officially announced his retirement a few weeks later. The free agent pitching well dried up almost instantaneously, leaving the Yankees to scramble as they tried to fill out their rotation. They finally made a move in late-January, signing the long forgotten Bartolo Colon to a minor league contract.

“It’s nice to see the Yankees going after reclamation projects as back of the rotation possibilities,” wrote Joe at the time of the signing, “but I find it nearly impossible to envision a scenario in which Colon can help the team.” I felt the same way, and I’m sure many of you did as well. But hey, it was a minor league contract with no risk, and the Yankees had the benefit of Tony Pena‘s input after he managed Colon during winter ball. The Yankees had nothing to lose but time.

Colon started the first game of the Grapefruit League schedule in February, and something weird happened. He came out throwing bullets. I mean 93-94 mph with the four-seamer, plus a two-seamer that ran all over the place. Bart looked healthy and strong, and he continued to not just pitch well in camp, but show stuff that could get big league hitters out. When time came to trim down the roster, the Yankees decided to go with Freddy Garcia as their fifth starter, but Colon had made the team as a reliever.

The bullpen role was short lived. After three impressive long-relief outings in April, Colon moved into the rotation as Phil Hughes went down with what was then a mystery shoulder ailment. His first start came on April 20th in Toronto, when he gave the Yankees 6.2 innings of two-run ball. Colon struck out seven and walked just two, raising his season K/BB to 20/5 in just 18 IP. Seven days later he dominated the White Sox (8 IP, 1 R), and five days after that he held down the Tigers (7 IP, 3 R).

A few days after that start, we all learned Bart’s secret, how a 38-year-old pitcher that had missed the vast majority of the last five seasons due to major arm problems was able to come back throwing so hard and with so much movement. Stem cells. Colon underwent an experimental procedure in 2009 that used stem cells in addition to platelet-rich plasma treatment, a non-surgical procedure that took less than 40 minutes. MLB investigated the procedure because of HGH concerns, but nothing came of it. Meanwhile, Colon just kept dominating.

After throwing a complete game shutout against the Athletics, Bartolo ended the month of May with a 3.26 ERA and a 62/15 K/BB in 66.1 IP. Colon was a full blown revelation, pitching at a near ace-like level five seasons after last being an effective starter. On June 11th, however, the comeback hit a speed bump when Bart pulled up lame covering first base on a rainy afternoon against the Indians. He’d suffered a strained left hamstring, an injury expected to keep him out somewhere between two or three weeks.

Colon was never really the same after the injury, and at first it was blamed on being apprehensive about the hammy. He had his moments after returning in early-July, specifically a five-start stretch from July 19th through August 11th in which he allowed no more than two earned runs any time out. Bart hit the wall in his final eight starts, showing reduced velocity and less command than he had a few weeks prior. Ultimately, he pitched poor enough in the season’s final month to be left off the team’s playoff roster, a damn shame if you ask me.

Despite the slow finish, Bart pitched better than anyone could have possibly expected. He held up long enough to make 26 starts (and the three relief appearances in April) and throw 164.1 IP, nearly as many as he’d thrown from 2007-2010 combined (200.2 IP). Colon’s 3.82 FIP was built on the strength of 7.4 K/9 and just 2.0 BB/9, a 3.38 K/BB ratio that was ninth best in the AL. Although his ERA finished at 4.00 on the nose, it was closer to 3.50 pretty much all season before the poor finish. At 2.4 bWAR and 2.9 fWAR, Colon exceeded every possible expectation, hitting on the best case scenario as a shot in the dark minor league signing. I don’t know what 2012 holds for him, but I do know that for the first four months of the season, Bartday was my favorite day of the week.

Mailbag: Montero, Oppenheimer, Sabathia, Bay

Got five questions this week, but two are pretty short. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar whenever you want to send in questions in the future.

(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images North America)

Mark asks: Could Montero be taught how to play 3B? A-Rod seemingly will need to become the Yankee’s full-time DH eventually. Do you know of any player that converted to 3B with his body type and lack of athleticism?

The official site lists Jesus Montero at 6-foot-3 and 235 lbs., and you can count the number of regular third baseman that size on one hand: Scott Rolen (6-foot-4, 240), Alex Rodriguez (6-foot-3, 230), Ryan Zimmerman (6-foot-3, 230), Mark Reynolds (6-foot-2, 220), and Danny Valencia (6-foot-2, 220). Montero’s a touch bigger than Valencia and he’s definitely not in the same class athletically as A-Rod, Rolen, or Zimmerman. That’s for sure. Reynolds moved to first base late this season, so I’m not sure he counts.

Most guys that move to third base after their fourth or fifth pro season are failed shortstops or second baseman, middle infielders moving down the defensive spectrum. Brandon Inge did the “catcher turned third base” thing, but he’s only 5-foot-11 and 190 lbs. Realistically, the only place Montero can move is to first base or DH. If they want to try the outfield, then I wish them luck. It won’t be a quick or painless transition. A-Rod looked perfectly fine on defense in the ALDS, more than fine actually, it was his bat that slowed. I don’t think we have to worry about him in the field just yet.

Tucker asks: Despite the obvious loss that would be felt by Damon Oppenheimer’s potential departure, could there be some benefits towards having him elsewhere? He knows the Yanks system so if he goes to a team, such as the Angels, could we expect some trades?

We see this happen all the time, guys leave one organization to become the GM elsewhere, then they start stockpiling players they drafted or had with their original team. Dayton Moore’s loaded up ex-Braves in Kansas City (Kyle Davis, Brayan Pena, Jeff Francoeur), Jack Zduriencik brought in a number of ex-Brewers after hooking on with the Mariners (Russell Branyan, Bill Hall, Brad Nelson), and it seems like every trade Ed Wade has made as GM of the Astros has been with the Phillies (Hunter Pence, Roy Oswalt, Brad Lidge). The examples go on and on.

Is there a benefit to this know? Maybe. On one hand you can argue that the new GM is overvaluing the players he knows, but on the other hand you can say that he knows them better than anyone and is digging up the hidden gems. I would definitely expect some trades, but I don’t think Oppenheimer (or Billy Eppler for that matter, since he’s up for the same job) would just give his new players to his old team out of the goodness of his heart.

Shaun asks: Just a quick question, do you think the yankees would negotiate with CC Sabathia before he opts out of his contract or would they wait? I think they waited with A-Rod at the time and took a hard stance with him. I’d argue that they would need CC more than they needed A-Rod at the time.

I agree with you about needing Sabathia now more than they needed A-Rod then, but let’s not forget how awesome Alex was four years ago. Anyway, I’m sure they would be open to negotiating with CC at some point soon, even though the company line is to wait until the contract is over. That would eliminate the hassle of the open market, and as we heard last night, the Rangers are prepared to get involved. Let’s put it this way, the Yankees have nothing to lose by talking to him about an extension beforehand.

(Photo Credit: ESPN)

Kevin asks: What about an A.J. Burnett for Jason Bay swap?

We’ve gotten this question a number of times, and apparently it all started with some MSM article that was published during the summer. I’m not quite sure what the goal is here, is the plan to put Bay in right and trade Nick Swisher for a pitcher? Swish alone won’t fetch a legit number two starter just because he’s a year away from free agency. The net result would end up being Burnett, Swisher, and prospects for Bay and an unknown number two starter.

Burnett’s terrible, you don’t have to tell me that, but so is Bay. As an added bonus, he’s now injury prone as well. This isn’t just a CitiField thing either folks; since joining the Mets, Bay has a .358 wOBA at home and .296 on the road. I don’t but into the idea that getting him back on the contender with somehow reinvigorate him, and I can’t imagine the Yankees will fall for that either. The deal also doesn’t work in the Yankees favor with regards to contracts. Bother are locked up for the next two years (Bay at $32M, Burnett at $33M), but Bay has an easily vesting option for 2014 (Omar Minaya’s specialty). All it takes is 500 plate appearances in both 2012 and 2013 or 600 plate appearances in 2013 alone. You’d end up trading for the guy, then hoping he doesn’t play much the next two years to prevent the option from kicking in. No win situation.

As terribad as A.J. is, the Yankees aren’t exactly in a position to trade pitching for offense, even if the corresponding move is to trade Swisher for an arm. There would be no winners in this trade, so I’d rather stick with the devil I know rather than the devil I don’t.

Dan asks: Which roster player(s) would you trade for a legitimate #2 starter?

This depends on our definition of number two starter, but I’d trade pretty much everyone other than Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, CC Sabathia, and Jesus Montero for that kind of pitcher. When I think of a number two starter, I think Matt Garza, Jamie Shields, Matt Cain, John Danks … guys like that. That’s just me though, you’re welcome to feel differently.

Report: Texas ready to throw a “boatload” of cash at CC

Once Brian Cashman inks a new deal at some point in the near future, priority number one for the Yankees will be to get CC Sabathia re-signed after he inevitably opts out of his contract. Once that happens, then the rest of the offseason can really start to take shape. No team will be able to offer Sabathia more money the Yankees, but according to ESPN New York, the Rangers sure are going to try…

“I hear they’re going to throw a boatload of money at him,” said the source, who requested anonymity, “But I think he’ll stay with the Yankees. He’s talked so much about how much he loves New York, and besides, the Yankees can’t afford to lose him from that pitching staff.”

Like the Yankees, the Rangers were left with Cliff Lee money in their pocket last offseason, but they gave a bunch of it to Adrian Beltre ($80M, to be exact). They also have incumbent lefty ace C.J. Wilson up for free agency, but I’m sure they’re willing to let him walk in exchange for adding Sabathia. In fact, they’d even gain a draft pick in that scenario (lose one for signing CC, gain two for losing C.J.).

In reality, there’s not much news here. Pretty much every big market team will have their eye on Sabathia when he hits free agency, and Texas showed a willingness last offseason to spend big bucks under their new Nolan Ryan-led ownership group. They’ll make an aggressive push, put a little pressure on the Yankees (as well as Wilson and his agent), but I gotta believe they’d really have to blow Sabathia out of the water for him to consider uprooting his family for the second time in three-plus years. I’m not saying the Rangers won’t be a serious bidder, but I don’t think this will be as wide open as the Lee talks were.

Joba Update: Throws from 60-feet start Monday

Via the man himself, Joba Chamberlain is scheduled to throw from 60-feet for the first time on Monday. He’ll make 75 throws from 45-feet tomorrow, and continue to stretch out to about 180-feet. Joba started his throwing program late last month, and so far he’s right on schedule in his Tommy John surgery rehab, if not a touch ahead. This wasn’t a good year for the big guy, but I’m excited to have him back at some point next year. Joba continues to be a personal fave.

Open Thread: NY Minute at Yankee Stadium

I’m a sure for time lapse videos, but isn’t everyone? That one above, courtesy of Silver Halide and passed along by Flip Flop Fly Ballin’, consists of over 2,000 photos of New Yankee Stadium taken during the 2009 season. It’s a minute of awesomeness, so give it a watch. Neat stuff.

Anyway, here is your open thread for the night. The Tigers and Rangers are just wrapping up with game (on FOX), and the Cardinals and Brewers will resume their NLCS at 8pm ET on TBS (Lohse vs. Wolf). Both the Islanders and Devils are playing as well. Talk about whatever you like, anything goes.

Joba, Maxwell activated from 60-day DL; Corona outrighted

Via Mark Feinsand, the Yankees have reinstated Joba Chamberlain, Justin Maxwell, and Reegie Corona from the 60-day DL. There’s no DL in the offseason, so these guys had to be activated at some point. Corona was then outrighted off the 40-man roster, ending one of the oddest 40-man stints in memory. He’s a poor man’s Ramiro Pena, if you can believe that.

Anyway, the 40-man roster now sits at 39 players with four more 60-day DL guys still yet to be activated: Pedro Feliciano, Colin Curtis, Damaso Marte, and Sergio Mitre. Marte and Mitre are goners, obviously.

Whether you like it not, picking up Swisher’s option is the right move

(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

The Yankees have three club option decisions to make this offseason, and two are painfully obvious. Robinson Cano‘s $14M option will be picked up while Damaso Marte‘s $4M option will not. That’s the easy part. The third decision may not be so cut and dry, but that’s entirely based on fan perception. Some people like Nick Swisher, who can be retained for $10.25M next season, and some people don’t. It works like that for literally every player. However, because of Swisher’s third consecutive awful postseason in pinstripes, there’s some belief that the Yankees would be better off parting ways with their right fielder of the last three years.

I’m not here to debate Swisher’s merits, but rather explain that no matter what side of the argument you fall on (like him or hate him), the obvious move is to exercise the option. Let’s break it down…

If You Like Him

This will be short and easy. Swisher’s incredibly productive (.358+ wOBA in five of the last six years, never fewer than 21 HR) and also incredibly durable (150+ games played in each of the last six seasons). By no means is his defense great, but it’s better than he gets credit for. His range-heavy +2.8 UZR over the last three seasons is a tick above-average and basically middle of the pack among all right fielders. Well-above-average offense and average defense plus durability equals a really valuable player, especially on a one-year deal that would pay him less than he’d get on the open market.

If You Don’t Like Him

I honestly don’t care why anyone dislikes any player, we all have our reasons. Could be his personality, could be the playoff performance, could be the batting average, doesn’t matter to me. Even if you think they should get rid of Swisher, the reason you pick up the option is so you can trade him. He still has value, quite a bit of it, and they shouldn’t just give that away (for two draft picks, which are worth something but not a ton) because of the ALDS. The Yankees pulled this exact trick with Gary Sheffield after the 2006 season, shipping him the Tigers for three minor league arms.

What could the Yankees get for Swisher? Who knows. The best comparable I can come up with is Josh Willingham, another bat-first corner outfielder that was traded one year before free agency. The Nationals received a Triple-A ready center fielder (Corey Brown) and a big league ready reliever (Henry Rodriguez) in the trade, two guys that Baseball America ranked as the 12th and 13th best prospects in Oakland’s system before the season. Decent return, nice deal for a rebuilding team.

Sheffield and Matt Holliday also fit the “corner outfielder traded one year before free agency mold,” but Sheffield was old and broken down at the time of the trade and Holliday is just straight up better than Swisher. They aren’t great comparisons. Neither is David DeJesus, who fits the narrative but is an inferior player to Swisher. Willingham seems to be the best fit. Two Grade-B prospects are better than two draft picks, which is why the Yankees should pick up the option and trade him rather than just decline the option if they don’t want him around.

* * *

Remember, it’s a $10.25M option with a $1M buyout, so the net value is just $9.25M. You all know what I think; the Yankees should just keep Swisher because they’re not going to beat his production at that price (in terms of dollars and years). If you think they should go separate ways though, at least recognize that they’d be better off exercising the option and trading him rather than outright declining it.