The Oakland Athletics have brought back veteran starting pitcher Bartolo Colon on a one-year deal. After pitching well for much of the season, Colon was slapped with a 50-game suspension in August for his use of performance enhancing drugs. That suspension is still not over, as Colon will be suspended for the first five contests of 2013.
Although Colon was a steady veteran presence for the A’s, the move is still a head-scratcher, particularly as Colon’s salary in the one-year deal is reportedly around $3 million (plus incentives), according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle. At that salary, Colon is a significant risk following his suspension. Firstly, he has not pitched in quite some time – there may be a good deal of rust that he has to shake off and at the age of 39, there is no guarantee that Colon will be able to do that easily.
Furthermore, how much did Colon’s use of testosterone help him pitch the way he did in 2012? Performance-enhancing drugs have been so labeled for a reason – they help hitters hit better and pitchers pitch better, whether through building muscle or speeding recovery from injury.
Presumably Colon will not be dumb enough to use PEDs once again, which means he will not be enhancing his performance next season.
Granted, his numbers were solid for the A’s. He posted a 3.43 ERA and did a great job finding the strike zone, with a strong 1.4 walks-per-nine innings mark. Should he come close to those numbers once again, Oakland would be very happy to have him as a veteran starter at the end of the rotation.
However, there is still a lot of risk in resigning a 39-year old coming off of a drug suspension.
Why would the A’s take on such a risk?
Most likely, the answer is that the club is not enthusiastic about its chances of resigning Brandon McCarthy. Despite the gruesome hit to the head that ended McCarthy’s season in frightening fashion, the veteran will still be a highly-sought after commodity in the free agent market. While hardly an ace, McCarthy would be an ideal number-two starter in lots of rotations, and no worse than a number-three on almost any team.
Oakland can rarely afford to go after guys like that without weakening some other area of the team.
Should McCarthy be headed elsewhere, Colon’s return will guarantee the A’s a veteran presence in the rotation, although not necessarily a solid presence.
The fact that the A’s spent what is a good chunk of cash on Colon is either a sign that ownership is willing to spend quite a bit more this season, or that the front office does not believe it can get a pitcher superior to Bartolo Colon for $3 million. If the latter is the case, it should be a little concerning to Oakland fans that the club cannot spend enough in free agency to do any better than Bartolo Colon.
There is always the chance that Colon becomes a valued starter in Oakland next season, as he was during 2012 (until his suspension), but there is also a lot of risk associated with the move. Whether or not resigning Colon pans out for the A’s and how it will affect the rest of their off-season moves remains to be seen.