It was the winter of 2012, and the question for the A’s was whether they should take the risk of re-signing right-hander Bartolo Colon at age 39.
Oakland did bring Colon back on a one-year $3 million deal, and he enjoyed an 18-win season in 2013 and made the All-Star team.
Here it is, three years later. Who would have guessed Colon, six months shy of his 43rd birthday, would be planning to return for a 19th major league season? He’s hardly the most sought-after name in a loaded free agent starting pitching market. But Colon’s performance last season for the New York Mets suggests he might have another quality year in him, and he should be affordable on a one-year contract.
He makes sense as a potential target, once again, for the A’s, who have already signed free agent lefty Rich Hill but still are looking to bolster a rotation that will feature its share of inexperience. Here’s a look at the pros and cons of the A’s signing Colon, who has 218 career wins and is one away from tying Pedro Martinez for second-most ever by a Dominican-born pitcher:
PRO: In a winter where so many of the top free agent starters will command multi-year contracts at $40-50 million minimum, Colon figures to be a relative bargain. He’s probably looking at a one-year deal in the $6-10 million range. And if that sounds too steep for a soon-to-be 43-year-old, his recent track record justifies the cost. Over the past three seasons, Colon has averaged 16 wins while posting a 3.65 ERA and a WHIP of 1.211. Last season, he went 14-13 with a 4.16 ERA and logged 194 2/3 innings for the NL East-champion Mets. Yes, he gave up a league-high 217 hits. But that’s because he’s always around the plate. Colon tied for the league lead with just 1.1 walks allowed per nine innings.
CON: It’s obvious … As durable as Colon has been, his age suggests the drop-off could happen at anytime, and be drastic. A flamethrower early in his career, Colon’s fastball now tops out in the high 80’s. He relies predominantly on that fastball and being able to spot it with pinpoint control. Should he start to lose that command, his margin for error is small. The 25 homers Colon allowed in 2015 were his most since he served up 26 in 2005.
PRO: Colon was an immensely popular figure in the A’s clubhouse during his two-year tenure with the club (2012-13), and a veteran that manager Bob Melvin said younger pitchers can learn from just by observing how he attacks hitters. That holds value considering that Oakland’s rotation, as it currently sets up, includes just two starters with more than one full year of big league experience (Sonny Gray and Rich Hill). Colon goes about his work on the mound in a calm, often expressionless manner. But in the clubhouse, the portly right-hander is known as a fun-loving prankster. Given the chemistry issues that dogged the A’s last season, perhaps they need someone to help keep things loose.
CON: The A’s aren’t regarded as a team that will contend for the AL West title in 2016. Given that’s the case, the emphasis should be on the continued development of younger pitchers. Colon’s presence could block an opportunity for other pitchers who factor more prominently in their future. Gray and Hill could conceivably be joined in the rotation by Jesse Hahn, Kendall Graveman and Chris Bassitt. All three are 26 or younger. There’s also Aaron Brooks and Sean Nolin, who also will be competing for a rotation spot in spring training. And there will be plenty of camp buzz around the A’s top pitching prospect, lefty Sean Manaea, who led the Arizona Fall League in strikeouts. With Colon locking down one of the five spots, it would mean less opportunity for one of those younger pitchers, even if they shine in the Cactus League.
FOR IT TO HAPPEN: The A’s have to really put stock into the idea of veteran pitching leadership. Billy Beane, Oakland’s executive vice president of baseball operations, was asked in October about the importance of adding a veteran starter. “I think Sonny will be just fine without an older mentor,” Beane quipped. But since then, the A’s have signed the 35-year-old Hill to a one-year $6 million contract. Will Oakland shell out what’s likely to be a larger one-year contract for another savvy veteran in Colon?
PREDICTION: It’s remarkable how little has changed since Colon left the A’s following the 2013 season. He’s still defying the odds, retiring hitters at an impressive rate well into his 40’s. He and the A’s just seem to go well together, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if the two sides tried to strike an agreement.