Colon's final start against Cleveland was fittingly in the twilight
In a statement released from by the MLB Players Association, Colon said, "I apologize to the fans, to my teammates and to the Oakland A's. I accept responsibility for my actions and I will serve my suspension as required by the joint drug program."
Arguably the ace of one of the more surprising pitching staffs in baseball, Colon will miss the final 40 games of the 2012 regular season and up to 10 games either in the 2012 postseason or the 2013 regular season, or both. As the team makes the adjustment of not having Colon (most likely recalling Dan Straily), here are my five reasons why this should not come as a total surprise for A's fans or fans of Major League Baseball.
Like former teammate Nick Swisher, Colon was set to be a free agent in demand
The simple, most cynical answer is usually the most polarizing. And almost always, there is a layer of truth to it. Like Melky Cabrera across the Bay, Bartolo Colon was set to cash in on his season in free agency. Making $2 million this year, Colon was putting up numbers he had not approached since the mid-2000's. As such, there was a potential market for a veteran starter with pinpoint control that gets hitters out. A prime example was Ben Sheets, who the A's inked to a one-year $10 million deal in 2010 after missing the 2009 season.
Let us not be fooled: Colon benefited greatly from pitching in Oakland. But in 2012, his ERA was actually lower away from the Coliseum than inside of it (3.27 on the road versus 3.54 in Oakland). Speculation was rampant that Colon could be dealt at the July 31 non-waiver deadline so the A's could go with their younger arms. But that no longer became an option as Colon pitched his best ball of the year, posting a 4-1 record with a sparkling 1.57 ERA in the last 28 days.
But instead of being rewarded, he may find himself outside of baseball for good. It will certainly be curious to see if he is signed by a team that takes a flier on a pitcher who will in essence only miss three starts at the most to begin 2013.
Who has been the best pitcher in the last month? You could argue Bartolo Colon
The last time Bartolo Colon pitched this well was not 2011. It was not 2010, 2008 or even 2007. Try 2005, when Colon won the American League Cy Young Award for the Los Angeles Angels winning 21 games. Colon was 32 years old at that point. In the next six years, he would win 22 games total.
Even last year, as pundits and fans were baffled by his first half resurgence with the New York Yankees, Colon looked more serviceable than top shelf. His 2-6 record and 4.96 ERA in the second half of 2011 seemed completely predictable for a pitcher whose 164 1/3 innings pitched were exactly 63 more than he had pitched in his last two seasons combined.
So as he started fast again for the A's, making Billy Beane look like a genius (again) starting the 2012 season with a 2.53 ERA in his first six starts. Colon's swoon for the A's would come a couple months early as he was shellacked in the month of May to the tune of a 7.92 ERA with a WHIP of 1.920. It seemed as though he was at the end of the line.
Then suddenly, Colon looked like the thinner, younger version of himself (albeit not nearly as hard a thrower) as his ERA has dropped from 3.27 in June, to 2.65 in July, to 1.88 in August. He was not only the best starter for the A's, he was making the case for being one of the best starters in the entire league for that duration. In 14 starts, Colon's ERA had dropped from 4.52 on May 26 to 3.43 where it will end August 22.
Recent history has shown us that pitchers who excel long after their best days should be behind them usually carry a cloud of suspicion at best and are implicated for cheating at worst. Colon is no exception.
Know any good attorneys Bartolo?
According to ESPN.com and information from the Associated Press, even though Bartolo Colon is going to lose the remaining $469,945 of his $2 million base salary this year, he has earned $600,000 in performance bonuses. That money cannot be touched. So in a roundabout way, Colon actually turned a $130,055 profit from his use of performance enhancing drugs.
Think about that for a second. Although I am no Carnac the Magnificent, it is reasonable to say that Colon would not have put these numbers up clean. There is about six years of performance to back that assertion up. So by running this risk, he stands to only benefit. Without improved performance, a 38-year-old pitcher with rapidly declined stuff is out of the league.
But with improved performance, Colon essentially made himself over $130,000 in 2012. And like Melky Cabrera, Marlon Byrd, Guillermo Mota and Freddy Galvis (the other four MLB players suspended for PED's in 2012), the reward is far greater than the risk. If you are a middling player on the cusp of being out of baseball, your salary goes from the stratosphere to the very real Main Street–sphere in a hurry.
The superstar will always carry more of a burden with cheating. Ryan Braun's ordeal served as a lightning rod for what you know versus what you can prove and the effect it can have on an otherwise squeaky clean athlete. Ironically, Braun has quietly put up MVP-type numbers in 2012 as the Brewers have become a mediocre ball club. So in a way, he has been allowed the relative anonymity that a city like Milwaukee affords.
And that leads to another point altogether: If you get caught, 50 games is not enough of a punishment. The average MLB players makes $3.44 million a year. Fifty games is roughly 31 percent of the season, or about $1.03 million to the average player. That leaves $2.41 million. If you cheated once, you would still make on average, $2.41 million in a season. Economics is not my strong suit, but I am certain that $2.4 million per year is more than what the average mechanic or teacher or police officer makes. Combined.
That said, Braun is in the midst of a contract that will pay him $150,000,000. I am hard pressed to find someone that would not be cheat, let alone be tempted with that kind of money in play. For a Bartolo Colon, the rationale is simple: If I cheat, I stay in the game. If I stay in the game, I continue to make the kind of money that 99 percent of the world can not make, irrespective of their abilities. The only risk involved is getting caught and not getting paid. But if you hang around long enough, you will make your money. Getting caught, it seems, is just another side effect of usage itself.
The team remains
So what have we found out in the last couple of weeks? A pair of players—one seemingly on the rise, another rising from the ashes of an apparently fading career—were caught using the same type of performance-enhancing drug. This has led to a lot of handwringing and sound and fury, but what will it ultimately symbolize? Most likely nothing.
Why nothing? Because like I said earlier, money talks. People speak of a player like Melky Cabrera as if he lost some golden ticket. From my vantage point, he was never in a position to cash it in without cheating the game. But before I begin to sound pious, let me tell you, I cannot blame him. I do not condone cheating, but I certainly do not blame him. Or Colon.
I say that because time and time again, people show us that for the right amount of money, core values take a backseat. Because it is hard for any man (or woman) to rectify leaving seven, eight, even nine figures in cash laying around because of a silly little thing like honor, courage or integrity. It seems to me that for the player that decides to use performance-enhancing drugs, the crime is not that of being caught and losing time and the money that comes with the game, but not being in that position in the first place.
Ultimately, this will affect the Oakland A's. Colon was pitching too well and too consistently for it not to. But long term, it is just another rumble of PED use that came to the surface. Like the iceberg that sank the Titanic, all of the really interesting stuff sits beneath the surface.