Sox insure rotation with talented Colon
Boston adds depth by signing Cy Young winner to Minors deal
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Bartolo Colon might be nothing more than an insurance policy for the Red Sox. Then again, Boston could be the place where a former Cy Young Award winner is able to resurrect his career.
The one thing that is clear is that there's no harm in the Red Sox giving Colon a chance to show exactly what he might have left. The club officially announced Monday that the right-hander -- who was saddled with shoulder woes in 2006 and elbow problems last year -- has signed a Minor League contract and will report to camp on Tuesday.
"Well, signing Colon to a Minor League deal, we think is a no-risk, potential high-reward signing," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He's on a Minor League contract and he's going to show up in camp tomorrow, and we'll do an evaluation of how far he is away from helping us, but it takes more than five starting pitchers to get through a season. Obviously he's an accomplished guy, and if we can get him back to a point where he's throwing well, he can certainly help us at some point during the season."
Even without the injured Curt Schilling, the Red Sox seem to have their starting rotation fairly set. Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Jon Lester represent the front four. Clay Buchholz is expected to be the fifth starter, though Julian Tavarez and Kyle Snyder are also battling for that spot.
In Colon, the Red Sox have an accomplished man who might be waiting in the wings if there's an injury or some ineffectiveness somewhere else in the rotation.
Because Colon is a couple of weeks behind already, it's all but certain he will start the season in the Minor Leagues. The contract gives Colon an "out-clause" at some point if he isn't on the Major League roster, but Epstein chose not to reveal what date it is.
"But it gives us ample time to get him sort of into shape and fully evaluated," Epstein said. "We'll see. We're going to withhold any kind of judgment until we get him in here and get him on a program. Like I said, this is a depth signing. Hopefully he'll be ready right around the time when we need another pitcher."
Colon isn't all that removed from the highest level of success, and he's also not as old as you might think. The big righty is 34 years old, and his Cy Young Award came while pitching for the Angels in 2005.
In trying to drum up interest from prospective teams, Colon pitched two games for Aguilas of the Dominican League this winter, the most recent of which was on Feb. 6 in the Carribean World Series.
Colon went 4 2/3 innings in that contest, allowing two runs and five hits.
"Decent," Epstein said of his reports from that outing. "He was 89-91 [mph], shaping his fastball different ways and pitching more than throwing."
Because the Red Sox were scouting the Angels as a prelude to their American League Division Series matchup last fall, Epstein had better in-depth data on Colon from late in the 2007 season.
"We had pretty good reports in September," Epstein said. "He was 91-92 [mph], up to 94. We saw him pretty good in September, so we had interest. We wanted to wait and see if it was the right thing to do and make sure the price was right and at this point, as we said, it was very low risk and high reward as far as the depth of our pitching staff goes. It just takes a lot of starting pitching to get through the season. You're hoping to get 1,000 innings from your starters, and there's a lot of attrition. This might be a guy who can help us at some point."
Why did Colon pick the Red Sox instead of a team that might have some more room in their rotation?
"He likes the Red Sox and sees this as an opportunity to get back to the Major Leagues in a winning environment," said Epstein.
Manager Terry Francona took part in a recent conference call with Colon.
"We tried to be very honest, while at the same time selling our situation," Francona said. "I think he had some things to sort out. We just wanted to sell the Boston situation, at the same time being very honest and making sure he knew he was welcome."
At any rate, it's going to be a progression for Colon.
"We're going to have to see where he is physically and arm-wise, because the one thing we don't want to do is try to rush and set him back," Francona said. "We'll see where he is. We'll kind of get a gauge and build his arm strength up."
"We're going to wait and see what he looks like when he gets in here," Epstein said. "He'll probably start with long toss and work his way up into [bullpen sessions] and then face hitters and get into games."
Pitching for the Angels, Colon went 1-5 with a 5.11 ERA in 2006, and 6-8 with a 6.34 ERA in '07. Colon has a career record of 146-95 with a 4.10 ERA in 309 appearances.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.