The Yankees had spent their offseason searching for pitching depth. And in the winter of 2010, the organization's scouts believed they had found an intriguing opportunity toiling in the Dominican Republic.
Bartolo Colon would have cost them almost nothing. But nobody could have known that he eventually would resurrect his career, or that he one day would find one last payday with the crosstown Mets, no less.
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It had been five years since he won the Cy Young Award, and it had been just as long since he had stayed healthy enough to pitch a full season.
So even as his scouts regaled him with reports of Colon's newfound health, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was unmoved.
"My first inclination was 'I don't really care,' " Cashman recalled this past week. "I mean, you know, a guy his age?"
Cashman eventually acquiesced, signing the broken-down veteran to a minor-league deal. Three years later, it stands as a defining event in Colon's comeback, which remains as improbable as it is hazy.
The Mets placed a big bet on Colon this past week, signing the righthander to a two-year, $20-million deal that became official Saturday. The deal is rife with risk.
Colon is listed at 5-11, 265 pounds. His comeback includes a violation of the game's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. And in May, he'll turn 41.
Nevertheless, the Mets became the latest team to roll the dice with Colon.
Last season, he finished 18-6 with a 2.65 ERA for the Athletics, good enough to make the AL All-Star team and warrant consideration for the Cy Young Award. Colon's park-adjusted ERA of 141 was seventh best among starters in the major leagues.
Turning to stem cells
Despite a body shaped like a beer keg, Colon has always excelled when healthy, and that hasn't changed during the second act of his career. His work has only improved in each season since he began his comeback with the Yankees in 2011, when he finished 8-10 with a 4.00 ERA in 1641/3 innings.
Though Colon faded down the stretch, he emerged as a stalwart for the Yankees, who later learned about the experimental surgery that might have saved his career.
In April 2010, a team of doctors extracted stem cells from fatty tissue in Colon's hip and bone marrow and reinjected them into his shoulder and elbow. They hoped the stem cells might promote healing, both in his partially torn rotator cuff and his damaged elbow ligaments.
Six weeks later, Colon underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy, another measure intended to spur the healing process.
Medical experts at the time insisted there hadn't been enough studies done to prove a conclusive link between the procedure and Colon's seemingly instant results. Nevertheless, by the winter of 2010, he was pitching in the Dominican Republic and drawing attention from scouts who were impressed with his velocity.
Colon touted the procedure as a success and went on to become one of the season's best bargains.
"The season was fantastic," Cashman said this past week. "The surgery clearly was a huge success."
Colon next caught on with the A's, where he spent two productive seasons, though his 2012 season ended in August because of a 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs.
He nearly was suspended again when his name appeared on documents from Biogenesis, the former Miami anti-aging clinic that was at the center of the sport's latest PED scandal.
Better with age?
When Colon hit the open market, questions arose about whether his value would be dampened by his ties to Biogenesis. But earlier this offseason, general manager Sandy Alderson said the Mets wouldn't rule out signing players with Biogensis links.
The Mets aren't alone. Jhonny Peralta signed a multiyear deal with the Cardinals and Nelson Cruz is expected to emerge from this offseason with a lucrative contract of his own. Meanwhile, Colon will make more money in 2014 than he did in the previous three years combined.
Even though Colon has invited scrutiny, there is little dispute that few have fared as well at such an advanced age.
Colon turned 38 the season he began his comeback with the Yankees. At that age, only 40 major-league pitchers have ever gone on to log at least 500 innings in the next three seasons. Among those, Colon's park-adjusted ERA of 119 ranks 15th.
"Later on, I certainly thanked [the scouts] because he was a difference-maker that year for us, no doubt," Cashman said. "And he's continued it even further, obviously, in Oakland, and now clearly the Mets have responded to his last three years of success."