Bartolo Colon: So What’s The Trade Market For a 41-Year-Old Pitcher?

Being six games under .500 and eight-and-a-half games out of first place, the 2014 New York Mets still have a decent chance to not be a bad team this season. Especially if Jenrry Mejia’s recent comments in his interview are indicative of the team’s ambitions, it’s quite possible the second half of 2014 could at least be enjoyable for fans.

But if the organization’s true vision is be competitive in 2015—not this season—then general manager Sandy Alderson has about four days to decide if the Mets will be buyers or sellers at the July 31 trade deadline. And if the latter, Bartolo Colon should be playing elsewhere in August.

Colon has been solid for the Mets in 2014, posting a 4.03 ERA (versus a 3.50 FIP), park-adjusted 87 ERA+ and 5.26 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 126.2 innings. The right-hander’s 1.3 walks-per-nine-innings ratio also ranks near the league’s finest.

The veteran’s value to pitching-starved, playoff-hungry teams is undeniable. In addition to averaging 6.2 innings-per-start in 2014, the Mets have also displayed a willingness to eat part of the $14.5 million Colon is owed between this year and next, according to NY Daily News’ Andy Martino–making the veteran that much more affordable.

Then again, Colon’s inconceivable durability and success at age 41 in many ways makes his trade value a bit more enigmatic than your average veteran pitcher. In an attempt to evaluate the potential return Colon could net the Mets, below are six summer deals (dating back to 2009) that involved non-ace, veteran starting pitchers.

July 31, 2009: Seattle Mariners trade Jarrod Washburn to Detroit Tigers for Luke French and Mauricio Robles

After years of being a serviceable starter for the Los Angeles Angels, Jarrod Washburn’s cumulative three-year 4.55 ERA (versus a 4.76 FIP) with the Seattle Mariners was rightfully viewed as a disappointment.

Yet, in what would be his last season in baseball, Washburn went out with a bang in 2009. Perhaps to spite an otherwise mundane career 4.13 ERA (versus a 4.60 FIP), the 34-year-old spun a dominant 2.64 ERA (versus a 3.80 FIP) over his first 133.0 innings.

Even though the Mariners were three games above .500, the team still sent Washburn and his $9.85 million contract to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for Luke French and Mauricio Robles at the 2009 deadline.

Neither French nor Robles was regarded as a top prospect, but to French’s credit, the left-hander was in the midst of a stellar campaign at Triple-A. The 23-year-old pitched to the tune of a 2.98 ERA and a 3.60 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 81.2 innings (and 13 starts).

French would again dominate Triple-A in 2010 (2.94 ERA), but only garnered a career 4.99 ERA (versus a 5.30 FIP) in 155.0 innings of major-league ball before fizzling out of baseball altogether by 2012.

Robles signed a minor-league deal with the Chicago White Sox in November 2013, but the pitcher has yet to appear in a game.  


August 7, 2009: Cleveland Indians trade Carl Pavano to Minnesota Twins for Yohan Pino

After completing an all but disastrous four-year, $40 million contract with the New York Yankees, Carl Pavano inked a one-year, $1.5 million deal with the Cleveland Indians in 2009 to resurrect his career.

While Pavano’s 5.37 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 79 ERA+) with the Indians wasn’t pretty, the right-hander’s 4.28 FIP, 3.83 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and ability to eat innings (about 6.0 innings-per-start) made him a summer trade target.

The 33-year-old was sent to the Minnesota Twins on August 7 in exchange for right-handed pitcher Yohan Pino. Pino, 25, was not considered a prospect, but had stifled hitters in both Double-A (3.19 ERA over 62.0 innings) and Triple-A (2.82 ERA over 51.0 innings) for the Twins in 2009.

Pino didn’t make his major-league debut until this season—and ironically enough, for the Twins. After pitching in the minors for the Indians, Toronto Blue Jays and then Cincinnati Reds, the now 30-year-old reunited with the Twins in 2014 and has tossed a 4.64 ERA (versus a 3.60 FIP) and 3.43 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over six starts.


July 29, 2010: The Houston Astros trade Roy Oswalt and cash to Philadelphia Phillies for Anthony Gose, J.A Happ and Jonathan Villar

By 2010, Roy Oswalt’s reign as a legitimate ace had seemingly come to an end. The 32-year-old, while still quite good, only posted a park-adjusted 116 ERA+ over his first 129.0 innings for the Houston Astros. By comparison, from 2001-2009, Oswalt owned a 134 ERA+.

On July 29, 2010, the rebuilding Astros eagerly sent their homegrown ace to the Philadelphia Phillies for Anthony Gose, J.A Happ and Jonathan Villar. Even though the Astros kicked in $11 million to offset the $22 million remaining on Oswalt’s contract (between 2010 and 2011), the playoff-hopeful Phillies still parted ways with a lot of future talent.

Technically, only speedy outfielder Anthony Gose was a top prospect in the trade—per Minor League Ball’s John Sickels. But both Happ and Villar were no slouches, either.

The 27-year-old Happ was in the midst of a solid 2010 season, pitching to the tune of a 3.75 ERA (versus a 4.15 FIP) and 1.74 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 72.0 innings. And Villar, a 19 second baseman, had already swiped 38 bases in 100 games at Single-A.

To date, only Villar remains on the Astros’ roster; getting the Opening Day nod at second base this season. The Astros quickly swapped Gose on the same day for the Toronto Blue Jays’ top slugging prospect, Brett Wallace. And Happ would be packaged two years later in a 10-player deal with the Blue Jays.  


July 31, 2010: Chicago Cubs trade Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and cash to Los Angeles Dodgers for Kyle Smit, Brett Wallach and Blake DeWitt

Going into the All-Star break, Joe Torre’s Los Angeles Dodgers were 10 games over .500 and were serious playoff contenders. Looking to bolster their rotation, the Dodgers acquired 34-year-old southpaw Ted Lilly—as well as infielder Ryan Theriot—in exchange for minor leaguers Kyle Smit, Brett Wallach and three-year veteran Blake DeWitt.

Despite sporting a 3-8 record, Lilly’s losing ways with the Cubs in 2010 wasn’t particularly indicative of his actual abilities. The lefty also owned a fruitful 3.62 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 115 ERA+) and a 3.07 strikeouts-to-walks over 117.0 innings. And considering Lilly owned a career 4.25 ERA and 107 ERA+, the hurler’s 2010 was off to a good start—especially for a 34-year-old.

From the Cubs’ perspective, acquiring DeWitt made a lot of sense. The 24-year-old made his debut a few seasons prior (in 2008) and hit to the tune of a park-adjusted 93 OPS+ and 10.6 percent walk rate with nine home runs. He also gloved a stellar 7 DRS at third base (and less-than-stellar minus-4 DRS at second base).

Despite a deflating sophomore campaign (68 OPS+), DeWitt looked closer to his rookie self in 2010, posting a 99 OPS+ and 5.2 percent walk rate with five home runs. Yet, the infielder never quite lived up to his rookie-season production.

In parts of three seasons with the Cubs, DeWitt combined for a forgettable 82 OPS+ and 6.0 percent walk rate. The Cubs granted DeWitt free agency after 2012 but he only mustered four plate appearances with the Atlanta Braves in 2013.

Blake DeWitt is no longer in Major League Baseball—and neither are Kyle Smit nor Brett Wallach.


July 24, 2012: Houston Astros traded Wandy Rodriguez to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Colton Cain, Rudy Owens and Robbie Grossman

The Houston Astros’ major-league talent purge, which started in 2010, only continued in 2012. And Wandy Rodriguez was one of the featured casualties.

Rodriguez, 33 at the time, had been a mainstay in the Astros’ rotation since 2005, owning a 4.07 ERA (versus a park-adjusted 102 ERA+) and 2.38 strikeouts-to-walks ratio from 2005-2011.

The veteran left-hander, while certainly not an ace, was still anchoring the rebuilding Astros’ rotation. Over his first 130.2 innings, Wandy spun a 3.79 ERA (versus a 107 ERA+) and 2.78 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.

On July 24, the Astros prudently flipped Rodriguez to the surging Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for three minor leaguers: Colton Cain, Rudy Owens and Robbie Grossman. Even though Owens had impressed at Triple-A, posting a 3.14 ERA and 3.40 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 117.1 innings, Grossman was the true prize in the deal.

Going into 2012, Grossman ranked 76th on Baseball Prospectus’ pre-2012 prospects list. The 22-year-old collected an impressive .869 OPS and 16.8 percent walk rate with 13 home runs and 24 stolen bases at Advanced-A in 2011. The switch-hitter’s success only continued in 2012 (albeit, less so), posting a .783 OPS and 14.1 percent walk rate with seven home runs and nine stolen bases at Double-A for the Pirates.

Yet despite Grossman’s dominance in the minors, the outfielder hasn’t quite displayed that same brilliance in the majors. Aside from his 10.4 percent walk rate, the 24-year-old owns a mere park-adjusted 89 OPS+, seven home runs and nine stolen bases over 467 career plate appearances.

Even if Robbie Grossman doesn’t pan out (and certainly Rudy Owens nor Colton Cain looks like they will, either), it was still a smart move to deal an aging pitcher like Wandy Rodriguez for a trio of promising prospects.


July 31, 2012: Chicago Cubs trade Ryan Dempster to Texas Rangers for Christian Villanueva and Kyle Hendricks

Like he achieved in 2008, Ryan Dempster was seemingly en route to another Top 10 Cy Young finish in 2012. By July 31, the 35-year-old had posted a dominant 2.25 ERA (versus a 3.43 FIP), park-adjusted 182 ERA+ and 3.07 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 104.0 innings for the Chicago Cubs.

But considering the Cubs were 15 games below .500 (a 43-58 record) by the trade deadline, dealing Dempster and his $14 million contract was a necessary move for the rebuilding organization.

In return, the Cubs received third baseman Christian Villanueva and right-handed pitcher Kyle Hendricks. At the time, the 21-year-old Villanueva had been ranked as the 100th best prospect in baseball by Baseball America. The prestigious accolade was certainly a deserved one.

In 2011, the Mexican native hit to the tune of an .803 OPS, 6.9 percent walk rate with 17 home runs and 32 stolen bases over 529 plate appearances at Single-A. Villanueva followed up his Single-A romp with another stellar campaign at Advanced-A. Now 22, the right-handed hitter combined for a .780 OPS, 6.5 percent walk rate with 14 home runs and 14 stolen bases over 520 plate appearances between the Cubs and Rangers.

But since the trade, Villanueva’s star has faded. Aside from walking at an improved 8.6 percent rate, the 23-year-old has done little with the stick in 2014: swatting a .709 OPS with 10 home runs and just two stolen bases over 369 plate appearances. And despite the promotion from Double-A, Villanueva is currently hitting .211 at Triple-A thus far.

Instead, the remaining glimmer of hope from the Dempster trade is Kyle Hendricks. After posting a 3.59 ERA and 4.22 strikeouts-to-walks ratio over 102.2 innings (and 17 starts) in the notoriously hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this year, the Cubs promoted the 24-year-old to the big leagues on July 10.

Hendricks’s debut was decent: surrendering five hits, three walks and four earned runs while sitting down seven batters over six innings. But the Cubs gave the right-hander a second start on July 22—where he shut out the San Diego Padres over seven innings.


Needless to say, none of the above veteran starting pitchers were in their 40s at the time of their respective summer trades.

But if you look at each pitcher’s “FIP Differential” (between their three-year FIP average and FIP at the time of trade), Bartolo Colon’s (-0.10) actually matches up well with both Wandy Rodriguez’s (0.08) and Roy Oswalt’s (-0.35).

Players FIP (3-Yr. Avg.) FIP (When Traded) FIP (Differential)
Ted Lilly 4.09 4.46 0.37
Wandy Rodriguez 3.73 3.81 0.08
Bartolo Colon 3.60 3.50 -0.10
Roy Oswalt 3.72 3.37 -0.35
Ryan Dempster 3.93 3.43 -0.50
Jarrod Washburn 4.76 3.80 -0.96
Carl Pavano 4.95 3.50 -1.45

From the perspective of a New York Mets’ fan, Sandy Alderson would instantly become a hero if he could net a bounty near the one the Houston Astros received for either Oswalt or Rodriguez.

While Oswalt and Rodriguez were certainly better pitchers in 2010 and 2012, respectively, than Colon is right now, Colon does share important common ground with the 2010 Oswalt: team control. Like Oswalt’s guaranteed $16 million 2013 contract (which was cut by a $7 million contribution from the Astros), Colon too has an affordable $11 million contract in 2015.

With playoff-hungry teams like the Baltimore Orioles (combined 4.47 starting pitching FIP), Kansas City Royals (combined 4.12 starting pitching FIP) and Toronto Blue Jays (combined 4.08 starting pitching FIP) witnessing starting pitching woes, Alderson won’t need to play used-car salesman to find a new team for his valuable, 41-year-old asset. And given Colon’s consistency over the past three-and-a-half seasons—and reasonable contract going into 2015—it wouldn’t be unfathomable for the Mets to retrieve a package approaching the one the Astros netted for Oswalt in 2010.


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