With Matt Harvey down for the 2014 season, Sandy Alderson signed Bartolo Colon in December, with the hope that the 40-year-old could be a top-of-the-rotation starter. Colon has yet to appear in grapefruit league action due to a sore calf muscle (he is expected to start his first game Monday). While it’s far too early to assess Alderson’s $20 million investment, it isn’t too early to discuss its implications.
Feb 26, 2014; Port St Lucie, FL, USA; New York Mets Bartolo Colon poses during media day at Tradition Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports
Let’s start with this-did Alderson jump the gun in signing Colon? Perhaps he did. The Mets are deep in starting pitching, going into 2014 with Jonathon Niese, Zack Wheeler, Dillon Gee, Jenrry Mejia, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lannan, and young candidates Noah Syndergaard, Rafael Montero, and Jacob deGrom. While Matsuzaka and Lannan were not in the organization when Colon was signed, they and other less-expensive options were available on the market.
Essentially, Alderson added to an organizational strength with a pitcher who, at age 40, was coming off of a very strong year with Oakland. It cost Alderson $10 million to do this. Did he “buy high”? In addition, Alderson, in my estimation, took quite a gamble that Colon can come close to the success of his 2013 campaign at age 41, and in a new league. We may already be seeing the effects of Colon’s age and physical condition in his calf injury. One has to wonder if the added dimension of having to hit in the National League could make staying healthy more difficult for Colon.
Then there are the financial implications of signing Colon. The Mets are (hopefully) emerging from severe financial restrictions. However, their payroll is projected at $87 million (with incentives), and they’ve stated that they will not be adding to it significantly. It is clear that signing Colon has limited the Mets’ ability to sign Stephen Drew, who could address a large hole in their lineup. Yes, Drew’s demands are not commensurate with his potential contributions. However, it’s reasonable that 2 years/$20 million could bring him to Queens (especially with his prolonged hold out). The signing of Colon is a very limiting factor in the Mets’ ability to engage Drew at this level.
The point is that there may have been internal options to add a starting pitcher. Mets fans are understandably excited about seeing Montero and Syndergaard. If the Mets had decided to give Montero a shot (as a fourth starter) and gone with the winner of Mejia/Lannan/Dice-K as the fifth starter, I’d argue that the rotation may not have been significantly less effective than with Colon, if at all. The cost savings could have gone to Drew. The early returns on Ruben Tejada are not good. It’s certainly possible the Mets could trade for a shortstop. However, that will likely cost one of the young arms referenced above. If it were up to me, I’d keep the young arms, give them a shot, and would have spent those $20 million on Stephen Drew.