Bartolo Colon was signed to a minor league deal by the Red Sox back in February.
At the time, this signing looked like a depth signing more than anything. Now with injuries to several members of the starting rotation already, more and more attention is being paid to this “No risk-High Reward” signing.
My question is this: Just how important is Colon to the Red Sox chances of repeating as world champs?
I's argue that he just might be the lynchpin.
Reports out of Spring Training are raving about how he is finally healthy. A report in the Boston Globe two days ago stated that he was again throwing around 95 mph. His health is the main concern. He has had elbow and shoulder problems the last two years that have reduced him to only 29 games in the last two years.
Health is also the main concern of the starting rotation as a whole. Josh Beckett is having back troubles, and did not make the trip to Japan. You also have to keep in mind the blisters that have plagues Beckett in the past. Jon Lester had forearm problems last year along with everything else that has happened. Lester is also very young and unproven, even though he pitched a remarkable Game four in the World Series.
Tim Wakefield is 41 years old and had shoulder issues that forced him off of the World Series roster last year. Curt Schilling is more than likely done for the whole year (and perhaps his career) with the biceps injury. Daisuke Matsuzaka is the only member of the projected starting five with no health concerns.
There are other internal options for the Sox, but they also have their own set of concerns. I will examine these one by one...
Had shoulder problems at the end of last year that forced him off the playoff roster. Also, Buchholz has only pitched 22 innings in the major leagues. He is likely the fifth starter—for now.
A former first-round pick that has had many elbow problems in the past. He has been a long reliever for the Sox for the last couple of years. If thrust into the rotation, there are serious concerns that his health will not hold up. At best, a serviceable fifth starter.
He is rubber armed, but loses effectiveness after the second time through the lineup. Having him in the rotation would tax the bullpen early and often. At best, a serviceable fifth starter.
A Triple-A pitcher who tends to fade in the second half of the season. The club has been reluctant to use him in anything other than spot starts at the big league level. At best, a serviceable fifth starter.
There must be a reason that the team is not willing to give him a shot after throwing the five-inning no hitter on the last day of the season in 2006. Should not be counted on to shoulder a major load. At best, a serviceable fifth starter.
Masterson is an unproven kid who may start the year off in double-A. It is not unheard of to jump from AA to the majors and dominate, but putting the fate of a team on one kid’s back can prove to be disastrous.
Same goes for him as Masterson.
This brings me back to my main point: We have four fifth starters waiting in the wings and three unproven kids to count on.
If there is either more than one injury to the staff or if one of the aces goes down for an extended period of time, the Red Sox could look at having more than one average or below average pitcher in the rotation at the same time.
Colon—the 2005 Cy Young Award winner—was, at one time, the ace of the Angels staff. He is battle tested and a proven winner. He has the type of talent and experience that can be counted on to carry a staff for a period of time. Yes, he has the same injury concerns as everyone else, but if he is as healthy as advertised, then the Sox could look to him to shoulder a major burden for the team in a time of need.
This was the main problem with the team in 2006. When injuries decimated the staff, there was no one to turn to who could be counted on to consistently win ballgames every five days. Without a stabilizing force in the rotation, the team wilted and finished in third place in the AL East.
With the American League having so many talented teams this year, the Red Sox cannot afford to fall behind or they will be left out of the playoffs. Bartolo Colon just might be the key to the Red Sox repeating as World Champs in 2008.