Bringing back Bartolo?

*Not actually Bartolo Colon

When the Yankees signed Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal this offseason after not pitching in the majors, nobody really paid much attention (except for those who used it as an opportunity to ridicule the Yankees’ apparent lack of pitching depth).  Colon after all had not pitched in the majors since 2009, and his hefty physique did not exactly inspire confidence in his conditioning, and ability to hold up over a long season.  The signing was largely viewed as a “see what sticks” move, a low risk acquisition that could add to the Yankees’ pitching depth if everything works out.  Yes he had the infamous his stem cell injection (using fat from Colon’s ponderous posterior), but who really thought that it would help him become a big contributor to the Yankees in 2011 anywhere outside of the buffet line?

As it turns out, the move did work out very well for the Yankees.  For a measly contract of $900,000, the Yankees got 164 1/3 innings of 4.00 ERA (3.57 xFIP ball), worth a total of 2.9 fWAR over the entire season.  Despite a short DL stint in June and struggling down the stretch, Colon was more than worth the money he was paid.  And he did this by relying heavily on his fastball, which increased by 2 miles per hour on average compared to his last big league stint in 2009.

Colon’s subsequent decline at the end of the season (4.85 ERA in August and 5.96 in September) have caused many people to write off Colon as done, and dismiss his season as a fluke that he is unlikely to repeat.  While there is a pretty good consensus that bringing back Freddy Garcia as a 5th starter would be a nice option, I really think the Yankees should think long and hard about bringing Colon back, of course provided that the financial cost is not excessive.

Colon’s conditioning and late-season swoon are certainly causes for concern, but Colon’s performance over the majority of the season demonstrate the value that he could still have in 2012.  When Colon was on, he flashed good velocity with the 4-seamer and nasty movement on a 2-seamer, which he used to freeze hitters for called strike 3.  His effectiveness and stuff looked somewhat diminished after coming back from the injury, but I really saw the hamstring injury as more of a fluke rather than a harbinger for a steep decline.

I think the time off and injury contributed significantly to Colon’s late-season struggles, and if he comes back healthy and ready in 2012, I don’t see why he couldn’t be the highly-effective pitcher he was for the first few months of the season.  Another possibility is that pitching in winter ball (which Colon did to get noticed by major league scouts) may be at fault for Colon’s struggles at the end of the year, so skipping winter ball in 2012 could help Colon hold up better over a full season.

I am not necessarily saying that I prefer Colon to Garcia, but rather, that it is far from a slam dunk. I would happily have both back if they are willing to compete for a spot in Spring Training again, and possibly work out of the bullpen as a long man/6th starter if necessary.  I am instead arguing that it is premature to write Colon off as done when he was such an effective pitcher for much of the 2011 season, and that he should be viewed as a legitimate rotation contender for 2012.

Of course, signing Colon does not mean that you can pencil him in to the rotation for a full, healthy season, so maintaining depth in 2012 will continue to be vitally important (such as Garcia if he returns and Hector Noesi).  Provided he is willing to take a reasonable contract (he’s earned a major league deal), stay in some semblance of decent shape, and get another stem cell injection (if necessary), I could see Big Bartolo once again being a significant contributor in pinstripes.  I think he’s as good a bet as any free agent option excluding CJ Wilson, Yu Darvish, and possibly Mark Buehrle and Edwin Jackson, and would come at a fraction of the cost.

17 thoughts on “Bringing back Bartolo?

  1. One thing I really liked about Colon is he just seemed like a good dude in the clubhouse. He seems like he’s got a good sense of humor and is a pretty down to earth guy.

  2. His decline in August/September should not have been that much of a surprise given all the innings he had pitched at that point and in the winter leagues after not having thrown more than 100 IP since 2005. I think its very likely that he was just tired out.

    Provided he is healthy and for the right price, I’d be for bringing him back as part of the mix competing for a back end starter position. He was a valuable pitcher in the first half and he could be even better if he’s built up arm strength. That said, he didn’t pitch very well against good teams and is still a gamble. A much cheaper gamble though than Yu Darvish who frankly is also a gamble.

  3. Unfortunately I’m of the opinion that Bart is probably toast — doesn’t it seem weird how it seemed like he just vanished from the team as the season neared its end? — though I am truly in awe of what he was able to do for the Yankees in 2011.

    Here’s a line from my game recap following a rough outing Colon had against the Blue Jays on September 17:

    “It’s a good thing the Blue Jays won’t be making the playoffs, as Colon — who took a 6.84 ERA against the Jays in 2011 into this game — only lasted four innings and gave up six runs, inflating his season ERA against Toronto to 7.99(!). Stripping his 21 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings against the Jays out of his ledger, he actually has a 3.06 ERA against all other opponents. Not that we can magically make those Toronto innings and runs go away, but that’s an important feather in his cap (or arrow in his quiver; whichever idiomatic expression tickles your fancy) with regards to drawing up the playoff rotation.”

    Now he did end up making two more starts after this one, and gave up seven runs over 8.1 innings, and so that 3.06 mark I cited certainly went up, but he was still probably under 4.00 against all teams not from Toronto.

    I still don’t know what to make of that terrible performance against Toronto — Sweaty Freddy also had pretty wretched numbers against the Jays as well, and (mostly) pitched well against everyone else. Maybe some of the cheating rumors were true…

    • It’s certainly possible that Colon is done, and his struggles at the end of a season were a signal of that. I guess I’m still optimistic because he was so good for the first 2/3 of the season, and considering that he hadn’t had a full major league workload in years, it was understandable to see some decline at the end of the year.

      The workload issue plus his injury being somewhat of a fluke don’t seem like major red flags to me as far as being able to have success next season. If he doesn’t pitch in winter ball this year, he may have a few more bullets left for 2012 that could help him hold up down the stretch.

      I certainly wouldn’t rely on him to be healthy and effective the entire season (and would have other depth options available), but given what I saw from Colon for most of 2011, I think he has earned another shot.

    • You don’t need to just look at Toronto…he was great against bad teams and generally poor against good teams.

      Against teams w/ win% less than .500

      6-3 2.13 ERA .949 WHIP 6.33 K/BB

      Against teams w/ win % greater than .500

      2-7 5.44 ERA 1.55 WHIP 2.55 K/BB

      That’s not to say that he can’t be a useful player but even before his late season slide, he was a questionable selection for a postseason start.

  4. I’m for extending a very grateful thank you to both Colon and Garcia for what they did in 2011 and wishing them luck in their future endeavors.

    The chances that either of those guys will perform at the same or better level than they did last year is, in my opinion, less than the chance that one of the younger pitchers in the organization can step up and deliver the same or better performance.

    After last year both of those guys will be looking for more than a minor league deal and a stand-by position in the rotation. Unless the organization is convinced that none of Warren, Phelps, Kontos and Noesi (not to mention Betances and Banuelos who may be ready by mid-season) can put up comparable numbers (in which case they should all be trade bait) it would be hard to justify bringing back either Colon or Garcia.

    • I’m perhaps a little less optimistic than you are about the young guys being able to replicate the production of Colon/Garcia last season, an unusual situation for me as a prospect watcher.

      Kontos is probably going to be a reliever long term, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Noesi get a little more time as a starter in AAA before handing him a big league rotation spot. I also wouldn’t mind seeing Warren and Phelps hack it in AAA a little more until they can show that they can dominate at that level. They are certainly good backups if Garcia/Colon spit the bit, but I’d rather roll with guys who showed the ability to get big league hitters out last year, at least until they prove that they are no longer capable.

      • I think I may have been imprecise in my comment. What I meant was that I doubt that either Colon or Garcia will be able to repeat what they did last year and that the AAA guys are just as likely (again, in my opinion) to deliver as much as either Colon or Garcia will in 2012 – not necessarily replicate their 2011 performance.

        As for Warren and Phelps, do they really need to dominate at AAA to be considered for 4th or 5th starter roles?

        • I think Warren, Noesi, and Phelps should be considered for the 4th and 5th roles. I just don’t think the team should be in a place where any of those guys are the favorites to win the spots. They have no starts at the ML level (with the exception of Noesi’s short stints at year end), haven’t dominated AAA, and don’t have the pedigree as a top prospect with elite stuff. Also, if they are in the rotation even if they perform, the organizational depth takes a hit. Who is next in line in the event of injury? DJ Mitchell? Let them be part of the mix competing but none of them should be the odds-on favorite. It also wouldn’t surprise me if Phelps and Warren didn’t pan out to be more than AAAA players (Phelps especially).

          • They have no starts at the ML level (with the exception of Noesi’s short stints at year end), haven’t dominated AAA, and don’t have the pedigree as a top prospect with elite stuff.

            Well, Phil Hughes dominated in the minors and had a pedigree as a top prospect with elite stuff. How’s that working out?

            I’m not saying that Phelps, Warren or Noesi will make it but I don’t consider their not making it a bigger risk than Colon and/or Garcia not making it. Based on last year’s results, both Colon and Garcia will be looking for something like a major-league contract for significant dollars. It’s not like keeping them comes for free in either roster spots or dollars.

            Remember, neither Garcia nor Colon were signed until the beginning of spring training this year. There’s plenty of time to hunt the scrap heap for next year’s versions of those guys as insurance against the kids not panning out.

      • I agree. If Banuelos or Betances were ready or Brackman had performed well last year I might feel different. It’s a big leap of faith though to think that Noesi, Warren or Phelps could provide the same or better than Garcia or Colon.

        I’d be willing to bring back Garcia and/or Colon at the right price. My guess is that Garcia has probably earned a guaranteed contract at a salary of $5-7 million. I doubt I’d want to bring him back on those terms. Colon probably has a few more questions about him still given his fade at year, older age, and conditioning. He won’t command as much and the Yankees are better able to assess the risk than anyone at this point. My guess is he’d be a good gamble.

        • It’s a big leap of faith though to think that Noesi, Warren or Phelps could provide the same or better than Garcia or Colon.

          And it’s not a leap of faith to assume that either Colon or Garcia, both of whom are at or beyond the tail end of their careers and faded at the end of the year, will be able to do even as well as they did last year?

          Neither Garcia nor Colon are going to improve in their ability and given their age and health it’s practically a given that their decline in performance will continue.

          You can’t measure the kids against what Garcia or Colon did last year. You have to measure them against what those guys are likely to do next year.

  5. For lack of a better approximation of value, based on their WAR contributed, Colon was worth close to $11.0 million last year and Garcia was worth $8.8 million. No one is suggesting that you pay them anything close to those figures. I completely agree with you that neither is likely to provide the same production. That doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be good signs at reasonable rates even above what they made guaranteed last year.

    I also would never suggest that either be signed tomorrow unless it’s at a bargain basement, team friendly rate. I believe that Garcia has likely earned a $5-7 million guaranteed contract. If that’s the market for him, I’d let him go and if Garcia’s back it’s going to be a last minute sign because the market didn’t turn out to be what he expected or the Yankees are desperate. I think there are more questions about Colon so while he’s probably earned an ML contract, he’s probably looking at a lower base with incentives. Assuming the Yankees believe that his end of the year struggles were either hamstring related or from fatigue, I’d think he’d be worth bringing back. That doesn’t mean I’d bring him back at a salary where he’d have to be part of the rotation to be worth the contract or guarantee him one of the starting spots.

    As far as your comments about Hughes, I don’t understand why Hughes struggles would give you more confidence in Noesi, Warren, or Phelps. To me, it means the Yankees need depth or strength in numbers. Bringing Colon in as part of the mix and letting him compete for a starting spot along with Hughes, Burnett, Noesi, Warren, Phelps, and a bunch of guys we haven’t even begun to discuss yet is what I’m endorsing. If not Colon, a few more low risk, high reward gambles like Garcia and Colon of last year. The old adage is you can never have too much pitching.

  6. I would avoid Colon like the plague for next season. His body clearly broke down as the season went along, as his velocity was never the same as it was before the DL stint. He gave us great value for 2011 but I think he’s done.

    Id be willing to bring Garcia back on the right one year deal, though I would prefer to walk away from him as well. Though he at least proved his ability to stay healthy, and really that would be the main selling point for any veteran 5th starter.

  7. Could not agree,more. I find the garcia skepticism puzzling. Hes been the same guy for 2 anfd a half years now and isnt ancient. Colon absolutely can be useful and is a depth move. counting dr ball this guy basically putched snout 5 times as many innings this year as he had in the previous 5 combined. He was understandably gassed.

    Having noesi, phelps etc on the team in,april leaves you with unready ip limited top prospects or fringe ml type guys as depth. To me its an easy decision to give garcia 5 plus incentives and colon 2.5 anf incentives. Worst case you pay for one and a half wins combined and get repkacement,level.

    Im really confident in garcia being a 2 win pitcher at worst though

    • I really think Colon’s innings had less to do with his ability at the end, more likely it had to do with his physique, injury, and relying so heavily on fastballs. With Colon you understand that if he doesn’t have good control on both fastballs he’s doomed that game. He showed no real ability to adjust in game, or as the season went along. He also wasn’t as good when his velocity was down, as hitters weren’t getting gassed by the 4 seam with the same regularity. If anything he will be more predictable next season.

      The only way I would bring back Colon is on another minor league deal with an invite to ST. Though someone will offer him a guaranteed year.

      I would be fine with a 1 year deal at 5 million for Garcia, but he may find some NL team dumb enough to offer 2 years, or double digit millions on 1 year. I wouldn’t give him either.