The Silence Is Deafening: Bartolo Colon

(AP Photo/Paul J. Bereswill)

Larry hinted at this yesterday, but the market for Bartolo Colon has been absolutely non-existent this offseason. If you look at his MLBTR archive, there have been a total of two posts written about the burly right-hander this winter: one looking at his free agent stock, the other a short little bullet point about Brian Cashman mentioning his interesting in re-signing Colon and a few others. That’s it, not a single other newsworthy item about the guy over the last two and a half months.

Given the lack of impact pitching in this year’s free agent market, Colon figured to draw some interest after resurrecting his career in 2011. MLBTR ranked him as the tenth best starting pitcher available this winter while Keith Law (Insider req’d) had him 11th, so the media thought he had some value to offer going forward. The 30 teams seem to disagree based on how little interest there’s been, or at least disagree about just how much he could help next year.

There are obvious reasons why teams would be skeptical about Bart going forward. He’s going to be 39 in May, he’s overweight, and both his fastball velocity and overall performance declined in a big way down the stretch last year. He’s also a two-pitch pitcher for all intents and purposes (four-seamer and two-seamer), leaving him short on wiggle room. I think there’s also a fear of the unknown given his stem cell treatment, since no one really knows what to expect going forward. Was the second half fade the result of fatigue, or is his shoulder starting to come apart? Maybe both? I don’t think anyone really knows the answer to that question.

Despite all that, I do think Colon’s getting a bit of a raw deal this winter. He outpitched both Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano last season while in the tougher league and the tougher ballpark, but those two guys ended up with the two-year, eight-figure contracts. Neither of them is all that young, plus they both have injury histories of their own, a significant one in Capuano’s case. I’m not saying Bart deserves that kind of contract, but it goes to show what kind of gap there is between our perception of his value and how the clubs see him.

The Yankees brought Freddy Garcia back with a one-year, $4M deal earlier this winter, which probably means Colon is looking at something below that. Garcia is coming off back-to-back 150+ IP seasons, a claim Bartolo can’t make. Of course if his market continues to not exist, he might be looking at another minor league contract, probably one with a higher base salary than the $900k he made last year. Colon didn’t sign with the Yankees until late-January last offseason (the 26th to be exact), and I have to think they’ll show some more interest in bringing him back if he’s still sitting out there in a few weeks.

I think that Colon’s lengthy winter ball stint — 37.1 IP without including playoffs — contributed to his late season collapse, and not having to deal with all those extra innings will theoretically help him going forward. Of course that also means he won’t break camp in what amounts to midseason form, but that will just make him like everyone else. I don’t expect Colon to repeat his first half brilliance over a full season, but I think he can still be useful at a reasonable price. The only problem is that no teams seem to feel that way.

email

Remaining one-year-deal starters (or what’s left of them)

(Photo by J. Meric/Getty)

A few weeks ago Tim Dierkes of MLBTR noted that there were still a handful of one-year stopgap starting pitchers on the market. Between the relative lack of activity on the Yankees’ part along with the team standing to benefit from added rotation depth (and not wanting to overpay for said depth), myself and others have spent a lot of time during the last calendar year trying to identify sensible low-cost options for the team. Of course, as our own Mike recently astutely noted:

At this point, if the Yankees aren’t going to bring in someone clearly better than Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia, they’re just wasting their time. The A.J. Burnett, Phil Hughes, Hector Noesi, Adam Warren, and David Phelps group is more than capable of filling those fourth and fifth spots.”

I’m very interested to see what Phelps (who I’ll be taking an in-depth look at on Monday), Noesi, and Warren might be able to do given the opportunity; however, this being the offseason and all I wanted to take one more pass through the unsigned names to see whether any of ‘em may make a modicum of sense. I began drafting this post two days ago; before I could even get through a couple of paragraphs a handful of names on my initial list quickly came off the board, including Aaron Cook (signed by the Red Sox to a minor-league deal), Paul Maholm (signed by the Cubs to a one-year, $4.25 million deal with a club option) and Wei-Yin Chen (somewhat inexplicably signed by the Orioles to a three-year deal that appears to have evaluated him on what he did prior to 2011).

Anyway, by my count here are the remaining guys presumably in line for one-year or minor-league contacts:

Bartolo Colon
Jeff Francis
Jon Garland
Rich Harden
Hiroki Kuroda
Roy Oswalt
Brad Penny
Joel Pineiro
Joe Saunders
Kyle Davies
Zach Duke
Livan Hernandez
Kevin Millwood
Ross Ohlendorf
Tim Wakefield
Chris Young

And here’s a link to a customized leaderboard I created on Fangraphs showing how they performed in 2011. There isn’t anything all that surprising in here; if you’re a believer in Bartolo Colon having another 2011 in him he’s pretty clearly the most appealing option of the bunch, having been the most valuable per fWAR, posting the third-best K/9, 5th-best BB/9 and 3rd-best FIP and xFIP.

Roy Oswalt and Hiroki Kuroda of course also look appealing, but as we know the Yankees remain uninterested unless either righty’s asking price drops substantially. The only other remotely appealing player in my book on this list is Rich Harden, who I covered extensively back in November, but his propensity to give up the long ball combined with legitimate health concerns are apparently outweighing the mouth-watering strikeout rate and continuing to keep suitors away.

For depth purposes, I still wouldn’t mind seeing the Yanks take a flier on Harden — who’s barely merited a mention on MLBTR this winter —  if his price ends up being near the $1.5M deal he signed with Oakland last season, although at this point he doesn’t pass the “better than Nova and Garcia” test, nor is he an obvious upgrade over old friend Bartolo. Ultimately, if the Yankees do decide to pass on a Colon reunion and asking prices for others remain unfavorable, it would appear that their best move would indeed be to utilize the rotation depth they have at AAA for the 2012 season.

In Bartolo and Freddy we trust?

All is quiet on the Yankee front these days, and it isn’t one of Brian Cashman‘s stealth-quiet periods that turns into a surprise signing of Mark Teixeira. Rather, the Yankees are waiting to see what comes to them. They’re rightly cool on C.J. Wilson but have to fill some starting pitching holes. What’s a $200 million team to do?

Last year, when the Yanks found themselves in a similar situation following Cliff Lee’s departure to Philadelphia and Andy Pettitte‘s retirement, Brian Cashman turned to the scrap heap. For a few million dollars, his coaching staff coaxed 51 starts and over 300 innings from Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. It was the biggest surprise of the Yankee season, and now, early yet in the Hot Stove League, the Yanks’ GM is, at least publicly, wondering if he can capture lightning in bottle again.

In comments yesterday to ESPN New York, both Cashman and his boss Hal Steinbrenner talked about bringing back Big Bart and Sweaty Freddy. “I have an interest in both Freddy and Bartolo,” Cashman said. “Those guys all did a good job for us, a really good job.” Echoed Steinbrenner, “Absolutely, that’s something we’d consider. It worked out pretty well last year.”

That it sure did, Hal. That it sure did.

In its coverage of these statements, ESPN New York turns this into some sort of money issue. The pair made around $2.6 million combined before incentives and both would like a raise. That’s not a problem. The Yanks have rotation holes to fill and money to spend. Garcia may be itching for a multi-year deal, and that is a potential hurdle. Yet there’s a larger question at play: Should the Yanks even be considering these two?

If we play the not-so-arbitrary endpoint game, it’s very easy to make a case against Bartolo Colon. Through his first 78.1 innings, he had a 3.10 ERA and a K rate topping 8 per 9 IP. He wasn’t walking many guys and was thriving mainly on a fastball. After suffering a hamstring injury and returning in early July, he had a 4.81 ERA over 86 innings and saw his walk rate climb while his strike outs dipped by over 1.5 per 9 innings.

As expected, his velocity fell off by year’s end, and he wasn’t nearly as efficient with his pitches. Colon will turn 39 in May, and no one is sure how much more his surgically repaired shoulder can take. At a low cost and with little riding on it, the Yanks could bring him back to camp, but if they’re counting on him for another 164 innings, I hope they have a good back-up plan.

Meanwhile, Garcia, who didn’t reach the 150-inning mark due to some mysterious cut on his finger, also struggled post-injury. In his first 20 games, he sported a 3.22 ERA and decent peripherals over 117.1 innings. Thanks to one disastrous outing vs. the Orioles and a bad start against the Angels, his post-injury numbers were ugly. He walked 11 while striking out 16 and giving up seven home runs in 29.1 innings. It’s tough though to put much stock in 29.1 innings.

For Garcia, the questions concern durability. He has thrown over 300 innings since the start of 2009 but he threw just 129 over the three prior years. He did a good job keeping the ball in the park this year, and that’s what fueled his success as his walk rate was higher in 2011 than in 2010. He turned 35 during the ALDS and giving him more than a season might be inviting trouble.

To me, Colon and Garcia represent the Yanks’ last resorts. What they did in 2011 made from some great stories and fun games. They defied age and expectations to help lead the Yanks to a championship title. To expect them to do it again may be putting blind faith into pitchers who don’t deserve, and the Yanks would be better served looking elsewhere for some upgrades.

Report: Yankees in touch with Oswalt, Wilson, and others

Via Marc Carig, Brian Cashman has already had preliminary talks with the agent for Roy Oswalt and C.J. Wilson. “I’m in the process of talking with everybody,” said Cash, who indicated yesterday that he would get in touch with Wilson’s people at some point. “That’s the way the routine works.” The Yankees are reportedly concerned about the two degenerative discs in Oswalt’s back, but there’s no harm in making a phone call. Oswalt and Wilson share the same agent, Bob Garber.

In other news, Cashman confirmed that he’s already talked to Freddy Garcia‘s agent about a possible return, and he plans to do the same with Eric Chavez, Andruw Jones, and Bartolo Colon. Chavez would supposedly welcome a return to New York if he doesn’t retire.

Eight Yankees file for free agency as offseason begins

The 2011-2012 free agency period officially started at 12:01am ET this morning, and eight Yankees have filed for free agency: Luis Ayala, Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones, Damaso Marte, Sergio Mitre, and Jorge Posada. Free agents can talk to other teams right now, but they can not receive any offers until 12:01am ET this coming Thursday. Adam Rubin has the full and official list of free agents as supplied by the players’ union.

The 40-man roster is now at 35, but Colin Curtis still needs to be activated off the 60-day DL.

Granderson, Colon up for Players Choice Award

MLB announced their finalists for the various Players Choice Awards yesterday, and a pair of Yankees were nominated for a total of three awards. Curtis Granderson is up for both the AL Outstanding Player and the MLB Player of the Year awards while Bartolo Colon is in the mix for AL Comeback Player of the Year. Obviously these are voted on by the players, so I imagine it means a lot to the guys that win. The winners will be announced on Thursday, November 3rd on a MLB Network broadcast from 8-9pm ET. Congrats to both guys for being nominated.

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.