LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Mets have lured baseball's unlikeliest ace, agreeing to the terms of a two-year, $20-million deal with righthander Bartolo Colon.
The deal is pending a physical, according to a source, who confirmed the Mets' acquisition of a pitcher capable of fronting the rotation as Matt Harvey spends the 2014 season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
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Colon, officially listed at 5-11, 265 pounds, has been chided throughout his career for his portly build. He has never looked the part of an ace. But that hasn't deterred the 2005 Cy Young Award winner, who has revived his career after injuries forced him out of baseball in 2010.
Colon's comeback story comes with some caveats. In 2012, he was assessed a 50-game suspension for violating baseball's ban against performance-enhancing drugs. And at age 40, he is at risk for swift decline.
However, the potential reward outweighs the concerns for the Mets, who offered Colon a second season to get the deal done. His arrival signals perhaps the Mets' boldest move yet to bring an end to their streak of five straight losing seasons.
In 2013, Colon went 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA while helping the A's reach the playoffs, his best season since starting his comeback in 2011 with the Yankees.
For the Mets, the willingness to sign a pitcher on a multiyear deal represented a sudden departure. General manager Sandy Alderson had spent much of the week playing down interest in the better free-agent pitchers available, seemingly content to wait out the market for cheaper options later in the winter.
That stance only stoked doubts about whether the franchise was truly past the financial struggles of the last three years.
Instead, the addition of Colon has upped the Mets' free-agent expenditures this winter to $87.25 million, further signaling a break from the austerity policy that has limited spending.
Colon joins outfielders Curtis Granderson ($60 million) and Chris Young ($7.25 million) as part of a splurge that dwarfs the Mets' $5 million in total spending last winter, and according to a source, the team may not be finished.
Though free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew still appears out of reach, the Mets already have shown a willingness to stretch past their own financial parameters.
"One of the things I've tried to emphasize is that it's hard to predict what will happen," said Alderson, who did not confirm the Colon signing. "So, when people predict that we're not going to do anything, it can often be wrong."
After signing a minor-league deal with the Yankees in 2011, Colon emerged as a rotation stalwart.
Few have been as effective or durable.
In the last three seasons, Colon was one of 50 pitchers in baseball to have logged at least 500 innings. Within that group, Colon's park-adjusted ERA ranked 15th, just ahead of Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
With the A's last season, Colon posted an excellent 141 ERA+. It would have been second on the Mets only to Harvey's 157 ERA+.
"This [guy] answers the bell," one AL talent evaluator said. "He can compete with nasty fastball command, his changeup is a plus. And he's an easy guy to trade if they want a multi-piece deal in either year."
Colon appears to be a natural fit to anchor the rotation ahead of Jon Niese, Zack Wheeler and Dillon Gee. The fifth starter spot likely will be filled by the winner of a competition in spring training, with Jenrry Mejia among those expected to be in the mix.