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2014 MLB Free Agent Profile: Bartolo Colon

The rotund right-hander has undergone a career renaissance, but could he help the Mets in 2014?

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After serving as a workhorse for the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Angels from the late 1990s to the mid 2000s, Bartolo Colon fell off a cliff at age 33, posting ERAs of 5.11 and 6.34 in 2006 and 2007. Colon then made just 19 mediocre starts over the next two seasons and in 2010 he was out of baseball due to injury. The Yankees signed him to a minor league deal for 2011, and stunningly enough, he posted a 4.00 ERA and 2.8 fWAR in 164 innings.

The Oakland Athletics signed him on the cheap in 2012 and he rewarded them with 152⅓ innings of 3.48 ERA, 2.4 fWAR ball before he was busted for performance enhancing drugs in August 2012, which ended his season early. Colon returned to the Athletics in 2013 and put up one of the best seasons of his entire career. He made 30 starts for the first time since 2005, throwing 190⅓ innings with a 2.65 ERA, 3.23 FIP, and 3.95 xFIP, good for 3.9 fWAR.

What makes Colon's success even more remarkable is how unremarkable his stuff is at this point. Over the past two seasons, Colon threw his fastball, which clocks in at 90.1 MPH, 87% of the time, far and away the most in the big leagues. Conversely, Colon was tied for dead last with a 5.6% Swinging Strike Rate, tied with pitchers like Lucas Harrell and Kevin Correia.

Unsurprisingly, Colon's strikeout rate was the fourth lowest among big league starters, behind only Joe Saunders, Jeremy Guthrie, and Correia. Colon made up for this somewhat by displaying elite control, walking just 3.7% of the batters he faced, a number only bettered by reputed walk-hater Cliff Lee. Still, Colon's success is baffling, even accounting for the park he pitched in.

The Cost

Colon pitched on a one-year, $2 million deal in 2013, and considering his performance this year he figures to receive a decent raise. At age 40, he is almost certain to receive only a one-year deal. Colon also does not figure to receive a qualifying offer from the A's, as he would likely accept a one year, $14.1 million deal. Colon's age, past PED use, and underwhelming arsenal figure to depress his market value somewhat. A good estimate for Colon would probably be one year in the $7-8 million range.

The Fit

While he's not as sexy of a name as someone like Josh Johnson, Colon probably makes more sense for the Mets. The Mets' rotation is hinging on two starters who had injury issues in 2013 (Jonathon Niese, Dillon Gee) and possibly a third (Jenrry Mejia), so it could definitely use someone who can be relied upon to make 25 starts. Paying for someone strictly based on the number of innings they pitch is foolish, but in the case of Colon, you get someone who can throw not just a lot of innings, but a lot of above average ones. There's also appeal in the fact that Colon will only require a one-year deal, whereas someone like Bronson Arroyo will probably want two or three years. In the Mets' situation, Colon might be the best possible fit out of all the veteran free agent starters.