Ryan Vogelsong was a thirty-something once-prospect who spent most of 2010 being awful in AAA. A few months later, he was on his way to Cy Young votes. It was an absurd tale. Yet he might not have been the most surprising story of the 2011 season.
There was another story that was just as ludicrous. A 38-year-old pitched over 100 innings for the first time since winning the Cy Young in 2005. He threw important innings for a contender that took a gamble on him. He says his renaissance was due to stem cells being injected into his arm during an experimental procedure. Bartolo Colon was an unexpected gift for a Yankees team that couldn't have expected it.
But in case you checked out on the baseball season in June, Colon didn't win the Cy Young again. He didn't complete a magical comeback season and become one of the most pursued free agents on the market. He was sort of bad in July. And August. And September.
Left-handed batters ate him alive, too. The league adjusted. Or the stem cells wore off. Whatever happened, it was somewhat predictable. There was no way that the Bartolo Colon of the first half of 2011 was real, and he wasn't.
But he probably was a little unlucky in the second half, too. In 2012, he should be something between those two extremes, and the K/BB ratio suggests a pitcher who can eat innings -- and, you know, a lot of other stuff too -- without hurting himself too much. That's a valuable thing.
He is pushing 40, though. And cracking the 150-inning barrier once in six seasons isn't exactly a trend. It's more than a little unlikely that he'll do it again. That's before bringing up his physique, which makes you suspect that Colon sits around the clubhouse, thinking about how much he hates Monday the 13th. A team that's looking for a healthy, reliable pitcher into the autumn months would be right to be scared away.
So the balance is between an arm that can provide reliably crafty innings-eating, and a player profile with more red flags than a game of Minesweeper. If you mash up Colon's first and second halves, and slap a 175-inning guarantee on him, there'd be about 25 teams interested in giving him a one-year deal. That guarantee isn't there, though. Caveat emptor.
When the dust settles, though, and the Edwin Jacksons of the free-agent world find a home, Colon will have suitors. He'll have teams willing to give him a guaranteed spot in the rotation, and he certainly deserves one. The risks will be there -- same as they are with any 40-year-old with a fluffy physique who returned to baseball after experimental surgery -- but there's an upside that could be worth the investment.
Prediction: Orioles, one year, $3 million. Take that, Yankees! It might seem funny at first, but it would give prospects (and Brian Matusz) some time to develop without being rushed. Combined with Jeremy Guthrie and Tsuyoshi Wada, the Orioles could have a completely boring and acceptable rotation, which sure beats what they had last year.