If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times (actual figures are spotty due to poor record keeping), everyone loves a comeback. Coincidentally, it was also said by the writers and producers of "Lights Out," an awesome series on FX about John "Lights" Leary, a retired boxer who has to return to the ring in order to pay the bills. If you haven't seen it, check it out. Good Shit. Sorry to tangentralize (made up Don King word) with my story, because this post is not about boxing at all.
It is actually about baseball and the aging, broken down and battered veterans who simply refuse to walk away from the sport. Every spring, a never-ending stream of taped up hamstrings, repaired elbows and low-hanging guts comes walking through clubhouse doors all over Florida and Arizona. They head to lockers without name plates containing jerseys with numbers on them that would more fit an NFL receiver (btw i really do hate the new trend of receivers wearing numbers in the teens. it really takes away from the imagery of my last sentence!), and they do it gladly. They do it because someone has thought enough about them to give them a chance when every other team chalked them up as "done." They do it because they don't want to walk away from the game because of an injury, or a couple of down seasons. They do it because they need the crowds that once chanted their names in unison, 50,000 strong. They do it because they love the sport and the clubhouse camaraderie. Whatever their reasons, every single one of them has something in common. They think they still have something left to offer, and they'd give their right arm for a chance to prove it (sometimes, quite literally).
This series is only about those players who are non-roster invitees, in camp on non-guaranteed minor league contracts, who have a legitimate shot at boosting not only their own teams, but your fantasy team as well. You will not see players like Mark Prior (NYY), Dontrelle Willis (CIN) or Wily Mo Peña (ARZ) in this post, because I feel that they simply will not have a big enough impact on fantasy sports, even if they make their respective teams. Anyway, here's the first name on the who's who of possible "impact" non-roster invitees for 2011.
1. Bartolo Colon, RHP - New York Yankees
I know, laugh it up. Get all your colon and butt-related jokes out of the way now. Bartolo (don't call him "Fat-tolo") has played pretty much every role a pitcher can hold in a major league career. He started as a promising rookie with the Cleveland Indians in 1997 and worked his way up to "ace" by 1999. The arrival of another hefty hurler, CC Sabathia, led the Indians to trade 'Tolo to the Expos in 2002, as a hired gun for Montreal's playoff push (I won't go into it here, but check out that trade. mind blowing!). After another trade and a decent season with the White Sox in 2003, Colón signed with the Angels, regaining his dominant form and winning the Cy Young Award in 2005. That's when the wheels fell off completely.
Shoulder injuries limited the rotund right-hander to 10 starts in 2006, and the Angels let him go after another injury-filled season in 2007. After unspectacular stints in Boston and back on the South side of Chicago (all while still struggling to stay healthy) in 2008 and 2009, Colón bounced his way out of baseball all-together in 2010. It seemed as though his career was over.
As the saying goes, you can't keep a good man down (even if he weighs 270 lbs). This past January, 37 year old Bartolo, claiming to be healthy and fit to play, suited up for Criollos de Caguas of the Dominican Winter League. Based on his solid play and team manager Tony Peña's recommendation (he is also the Yankees bench coach), the Yankees signed Bartolo to a minor league deal and invited him to spring training. This spring Bartolo has impressed the Yankees so much (12 strike-outs and a 3.00 ERA in 9 Grapefruit League innings), that he might just walk away with the 5th spot in the rotation.
The best case scenario for Colón for 2011 would be to make the rotation, stay healthy and give the Yankees 25-30 solid starts. With the powerful Yankees offense behind him, Bartolo could win a good amount of games in 2011. Realistically, Bartolo probably won't be in the rotation for long if he makes it out of spring training alive. The Yankees have too many good, young arms in the higher minor league levels that are on the cusp of possible greatness. If one of these youngsters (Nova, Warren, Brackman, Phelps, Banuelos?) doesn't push Bartolo out of the rotation by mid-summer, whatever impact arm the Yankees acquire at the July 31st trade deadline undoubtedly will. It is definitely worth keeping an eye on Colón in April and May, however, if you have any injured pitchers or even if you just need a spot start in a pinch sometime. He'll certainly give it everything he's got.
Stay tuned for the next post in this series, when I profile journeyman slugger Russell "Muscle" Branyan, who is trying hard to win the starting first base job in Arizona.
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