In a world where Jason Vargas‘ mediocrity is worth four years and $32 million, how is a team like the Toronto Blue Jays supposed to get a single front-line pitcher, let alone a couple of arms?
It’s a question that I’m sure GM Alex Anthopoulos is thinking about a fair bit these days, as the rumors coming out seem to have the bluebirds leaning towards acquiring assets through trade one day, and spending money in free agency in the next. There’s been a lot of names thrown around with a lot of smoke around it, and by the time it’s all said and done, maybe the team’s approach will be somewhere in the middle.
Even so, you’d have to figure that whatever money they have to spend this offseason (increased payroll and all … maybe), just about all of it will have to be earmarked for a pitcher — but one that won’t come with a financial commitment steep enough to potentially hamstring the team from making other moves.
Could Bartolo Colon be the only arm left that fits the bill?
To answer that, you’d have to consider the other options; and while there is certainly the case to be made that the Blue Jays face a payroll parameters problem, one also can’t ignore the talent problem facing this year’s free agent class of starting pitchers. Say, for example, that the Blue Jays had the money to give Ervin Santana the five years he wants at a total of $100 million, and also sign Ricky Nolasco for four years at $75 million. Does that make the team an instant favorite?
In fact, forget Nolasco. Since money isn’t an issue, why not add Matt Garza? So, would a Garza/R.A. Dickey/Santana/Mark Buehrle/Brandon Morrow vault the team into the status of World Series contenders?
Considering how being preseason champs worked out for Toronto last year … well, let’s just say that it’d be reasonable to have your doubts about it. The fact is that the current class of free agent pitchers simply aren’t game-changing, rotation-anchoring aces, but they’re probably going to end up getting paid pretty close to guys who are anyway.
The former is something that no amount of money is going to solve for the Blue Jays, so it’s actually somewhat understandable for them to be looking for good relative value, limitations or no.
Not that Colon will end up what one might call a “value signing”, but he could end up being a bargain in comparison given the upside left in his 40-year-old arm. Those two things aren’t likely to fit into the same sentence for too many other players, but it’s true in this case: for one, given his age, the right-hander will likely have his desired contract terms satisfied at a maximum of three years, compared to the 4-5 that the others might get.
Call it a benefit of him being in his twilight years, I suppose. Depending on how the bidding for him goes, a savvy team would probably be able to make that third year an option that kicks in via an innings count. Either way, that’s diminished term commitment makes what will probably be an eight-figure annual salary more palatable, as he’s at least proven to be able to perform at a level (around 2.5 fWAR) that would justify the cost for three years going.
Oh, and as for the upside? If the Blue Jays get a 3.9 fWAR, almost ace-like season like he had in 2013, Colon could actually outperform his contract value (assuming it’s around $10-12 AAV) even if his age-43 season turns out to be a disappointment.
It’s a lot to hope for, and it’s not particularly ideal. Then again, very few things are about the Blue Jays’ situation these days, and hope is something they’ll have to employ in ample amounts in free agency as far as an arm goes, regardless of how much money they spend or who they target.
Colon just happens to be the one who could probably be had for the fewest years with the same on-field potential as the other usual suspects, so … why not?