At this point in his career, Bartolo Colon and his stem cell infused right arm are reminiscent of the 1970′s Lee Majors driven drama The Six Million Dollar Man. Only in this case, the sum of Colon’s resurrection is worth two million dollars. Which is exactly what the Oakland A’s will pay him to be their number two starter in 2012. Signing an overweight, 38 year old pitcher with a surgically corrected arm to help anchor your staff seems like a move of pure desperation. The A’s management of the past decade has leaned heavily on the development of young pitchers, from the big three of Zito, Hudson, Mulder to the recent maturation of Cahill, Braden, Anderson, and Gio Gonzalez. Even this off season saw the additions of highly touted major league ready prospects Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, and Jarrod Parker. The A’s have established themselves as a team who would rather develop starting pitching then pick from the scrap heap, which makes the Colon addition raise an eyebrow or two. Lets take a deeper look into the Colon’s career, the procedure that revived him, and the risk the A’s are taking with his signing.
“Are you kidding me? That guy came out with a bionic arm, I’d take one of those.”
-Dallas Braden, on Bartolo Colon
From 1998 through 2005, Bartolo Colon was one of the best pitchers in the baseball. During this time, which coincided with his age 25-32 seasons he averaged nearly 17 wins a year, made the All Star team twice, won the Cy Young, all while striking out over 7 per 9 innings. In his first season in Anaheim, he struggled mightily flirting with an ERA over the 5.00 mark while allowing 38 home runs in 200 innings. Despite his troubles, Colon was able to win 18 games that year and in the midst of a pennant chase delivered his best performance to help the Angels overtake the A’s on the seasons final weekend. On a warm Friday night in October, Colon took the mound seeking to quell the talk that he was undeserving of the 4 year, 50 million dollar deal bestowed upon him the previous winter and quiet the raucous 40,000 + Oakland crowd. With the help of a physically ailing Mark Mulder who was in no position to pitch, the Angels would jump out to an early 4 run lead. As rookie Joe Blanton attempted to limit the damage, Colon breezed through the A’s lineup striking out 6 over 7 shutout innings while surrendering only 3 hits and 0 walks. That night the battle weary A’s lineup was helpless against Colon’s mid 90′s 4 seamer, and overpowering sinker and they would go on to lose the next game and the division to the Angels. In 2005 he would claim the Cy Young award with a 21 win season before spending the rest of the contract plagued by rotator cuff and elbow injuries.
Following a pair of aborted comeback attempts with the Boston Red Sox in 2008 and the Chicago White Sox in 2009, Colon found his career at the crossroads in 2010. Debilitated with an ailing elbow and a torn rotator cuff, Colon enlisted the help of Florida orthopedic surgeon Joseph Purita to head an experimental and now controversial surgery in hopes of continuing his career in the big leagues. The 45 minute surgery, which was held in his native Dominican Republic commenced in April of 2010. The procedure consisted of Dr. Purita extracting fat and bone marrow stem cells from Colon’s body, and injecting them into his elbow and shoulder in order to facilitate the healing of his elbow ligaments and rotator cuff. The surgeon whom has admitted to using human growth hormone (HGH) to assist which such procedures, has throughly denied the usage of the banned subject in Colon’s instance. Due to the unfamiliarity of the procedure and legal use of banned substances in the Dominican, Major League Baseball has launched an investigation into Colon’s procedure and the work of Joseph Purita. Results of the investigation are still pending.
As Colon healed at a hastened pace he would deem himself healthy to pitch again and would begin the comeback trail in the Dominican Winter League in late 2010. With his fastball surpassing 90 mph once again, Colon would draw the attention of the New York Yankees and sign a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Despite reporting to camp overweight, he would go on to crack the Yankees rotation. Although Colon would finish 2011 with a respectable 8-10 record, 4.00 ERA and and a 1.29 WHIP he would struggle to the finish line and tire by seasons end. During the first half, Colon notched 6 Wins while striking out 7.9 per 9 innings. During the second half, he would win only 2 games and his strikeouts per 9 innings would fall to an average of 6.8 as his fastball velocity would steadily decrease as the summer months went by. Whether this can be attributed to his reputation for poor conditioning, his age, or the regular wear and tear of a full season on a surgically repaired arm it was not enough to dissuade the A’s from signing him to a guaranteed contract for the 2012 season last month.
Slotting into the number two spot in the rotation, Colon slides in behind opening day starter Brandon McCarthy and will start the second game of the season in Japan when the A’s take on Seattle. Although Colon can be viewed as a veteran stop gate, while Oakland develops some of their younger starters and awaits the return of Dallas Braden and Brett Anderson from injury. What they can get out of Colon in 2012, remains to be seen. Will they see the rejuvenated pitcher who spun a dominant complete game shutout over them last May like it was 2004 all over again? Or will they see the out of shape, exhausted hurler who sputtered at the end of the season costing him a spot on the Yankees playoff roster? Much like the surgery that saved him, Bartolo Colon’s existence in Oakland remains questionable and expectations must remain realistic.