Indians Offseason Target: Bartolo Colon


Could Bartolo Colon Finish His Career in Cleveland?

Bartolo Colon is a familiar figure to Cleveland Indians fans. Colon  pitched five-plus effective years with the team to kickstart his professional career (75-45, 3.92 ERA, 873 K in 1029.2 IP in Cleveland). However, he’s now most appreciated for giving the Tribe an amazing prospect haul.

Colon was traded to the Montreal Expos prior to the 2002 trade deadline for prospects Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, and Cliff Lee. He would go on to spend just half a year in Montreal, and the Indians ended up with three quality major league players who have had memorable careers. It’s one of the more lopsided deals in recent baseball history, and one that shaped both team’s futures immensely.

But could Bartolo Colon return to the Tribe and help them remain competitive in 2014, 12 years since he last suited up for the Indians?

Once again, I’ll be using Steve Kinsella’s terminology to define free agents. Steve has created three lists – the “Sexy List” (top-tier free agents who the Indians may target if they come down in price), the “Ruggedly Handsome List” (players who may draw significant interest from teams, but won’t be as costly or require long-term commitment) and the “Ugly List” (self-explanatory).

List: Ruggedly Handsome

2013 Salary/Contract Status:

Bartolo Colon signed a one year deal with the Oakland Athletics for just three million dollars last winter, re-signing with the team he pitched for in 2012.

Last 3 Seasons:

October 4, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) delivers a pitch during the first inning in game one of the American League divisional series playoff baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Coliseum. The Tigers defeated Athletics 3-2. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After being released by the Chicago White Sox in late 2009, Colon spent a year out of baseball dealing with a series of injuries, including shoulder/elbow pain and damage to his rotator cuff,  tendons, and ligaments. He was ready to return in 2011, and he signed a minor league deal with the New York Yankees.

Colon made the team’s bullpen out of spring training, but injuries allowed him to start 26 games for the Yanks. While Colon didn’t put up flashy numbers (4.00 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 135 K, 40 BB) he was effective in his role as the team’s fourth starter and helped push the Yankees into the playoffs.

In 2012, Colon headed out west and signed with the Oakland Athletics. He improved on his 2011 numbers, pitching 152.1 innings and notching 10 wins in 24 starts. Yet his season ended in controversy when he was suspended for 50 games in August after testing positively for testosterone.

Despite his suspension for PED use, the A’s brought Bartolo Colon back for 2013. The righty surprised everyone by having his best season since he won the AL Cy Young in 2005. Colon was reliable for the A’s, pitching 190 innings in 30 games (with 3 complete game shutouts, a career high). He had a 2.65 ERA – a career best – and stranded a career high 80% of batters on base.

Why Cleveland?

As I noted in my article on Dan Haren, it’s very likely that the Tribe will be in the market for at least one starting arm, depending on the fates of Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir.

Why not take a chance on bringing back Bartolo Colon, a pitcher who has seemingly defied all expectations since returning to baseball in 2011? Even if he takes a step backward in 2014, he still makes sense as a fourth or fifth starter.

Type of Contract:

Colon should come with little risk in this area, which is a major reason why he might be tantalizing for a small market team like Cleveland. CBS writer Jon Heyman polled an unbiased GM and an unbiased agent to find out the likely asking price for Colon. The agent (and Heyman) both project Colon to sign a 1 year, 12-13 million dollar deal. The GM projects a 1 year, 8 million dollar deal.

This type of contract presents little risk to both the Indians and Colon. The player will still receive a significant pay increase – in fact, even an 8 million dollar deal would give Colon a higher salary than his last 5 years combined. And the Indians will be off the hook if he isn’t as effective as expected or deals with significant injury problems as he has in the past.

Perhaps Bartolo Colon and the Tribe – or any other team who is interested in the 40-year-old veteran – can work out a deal with incentives for higher pay or an extra year, too. There’s always the chance he performs like he did in 2013, or even 2012. Why not roll the dice?

Ruggedly Handsome List Members:

Dan Haren – Previewed Here – at the very least, could be a potential back of the rotation starter.

Justin Morneau – Previewed Here – could be an effective power bat to increase offensive flexibility for Terry Francona.

Ugly List Members:

Ryan Roberts – Previewed Here  – as vertical depth at Columbus in the event of injuries to infielders.

Jordan Norberto – Previewed Here – left-handed reliever who will spend most of year rehabbing from TJ surgery but would be under team control for three seasons.