Colon inks one-year deal with White Sox

Colon inks one-year deal with White Sox

CHICAGO -- The draw of Bartolo Colon for an accomplished pitching coach such as Don Cooper went well beyond the right-hander's impressive ability to throw 98-mph fastballs in the seventh or eighth inning of a complete game or his career record of 150-97.

Even in just his one year with the White Sox, spending the 2003 season on the Chicago's South Side, Cooper saw a special intangible within the stout hurler.

"He's a true No. 1 pitcher," said Cooper, during a conference call Thursday afternoon to officially announce Colon's return to the White Sox.

Colon and the White Sox agreed to a one-year, $1 million contract. Under terms of the deal, Colon is eligible to earn an additional $2 million during the 2009 season based upon innings pitched.

Since winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2005, Colon has thrown a combined 194 2/3 innings over the past three seasons for the Angels and then the Red Sox in 2008. As part of the Red Sox staff, Colon produced a 4-2 record with a 3.92 ERA over seven starts.

In the two previous seasons for the Angels, Colon had a 7-13 combined record in 28 total starts, with a dismal 5.90 ERA. Clearly, he no longer is the staff ace that he was as recently as 2005, but that description certainly doesn't fit the White Sox expectations for 2009.

Mark Buehrle, who was part of the same rotation as Colon in 2003, Gavin Floyd and John Danks already are entrenched at the top of the White Sox starting five. If Colon is healthy -- and White Sox general manager Ken Williams said Thursday they've received absolutely no reports to the contrary -- then he will check in as a most viable option as a fourth starter.

"We all know what Bartolo can do when he's healthy," said Williams of his newest acquisition. "Bartolo has always been of interest to us, and we know him to a greater degree than most."

It was as recently as the offseason leading into the 2008 season when Williams dispatched manager Ozzie Guillen and Cooper to the Dominican Republic to watch Colon pitch in winter ball during his ongoing recovery from a rotator-cuff tear. Guillen and Cooper were impressed enough for the White Sox to put forth "an incentive-based offer, with a low-base salary," according to Williams' comments at SoxFest 2008, which would have increased if Colon got healthy and pitched close to his vast capabilities. But the White Sox couldn't find Colon after the offer was made.

There also was a minor issue in Boston late last season. It dealt with Colon not wanting to pitch out of the bullpen when there was no spot for him in the rotation shortly after he returned from a stint on the disabled list from June 17 to Sept. 7 with back stiffness. Colon left the team and returned to the Dominican Republic and was placed on the suspended list without pay on Sept. 19.

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But Cooper expressed no worries about any sort of past mishaps.

"No, not at all. I don't take into consideration any past situation in Boston," said Cooper in an emphatic tone. "My dealings with Bartolo and our dealings with Bartolo are up front and honest. He's ready to go, and I really don't care what happened before. That was [the Red Sox] situation."

A clean bill of health provided by the White Sox medical staff for Colon is where the team's focus truly falls in the present. Williams mentioned how Colon was hitting 94- to 95-mph with his fastball in 2008, and he wasn't even all the way back from his shoulder injury. The movement on his pitches and Colon's aggressive style and pitching knowledge make up for any velocity drop since his first run with the White Sox, according to Williams.

Cooper knows Colon has to get into the best shape possible and build up his arm strength. His hope is to have him ready for the start of Spring Training, with White Sox athletic trainer Herm Schneider already putting Colon on a program and Colon coming to Arizona on Jan. 22 to continue his rehab. Cooper is more than willing to be patient with Colon, even if it means missing an early-season start or two.

His contract is not guaranteed, so Colon, who turns 36 on May 24, finds himself in the mix with young hurlers such as Clayton Richard, Jeff Marquez, Aaron Poreda and Lance Broadway for the fourth and fifth starter slots. Remember, though, from 1998 to 2005, Colon ranked second among Major League pitchers in victories (135), fourth in starts (261), fifth in complete games (29), sixth in quality starts (158) and seventh in strikeouts (1,369). 

During that eight-year stretch, he made at least 30 starts each season and threw at least 200 innings seven times. In his 2003 campaign with the White Sox, Colon posted a 15-13 record with a 3.87 ERA, setting career highs with 242 innings pitched and nine complete games.

Yes, he was a true ace hurler. But six years to the exact date that Williams first acquired Colon through a trade, he has brought him back with the desire for basic consistency and the hope for excellence.

"Can we keep Bartolo healthy? That's going to be our major undertaking," Cooper said. "Right now, he's healthy and structurally sound. Kenny got us a guy who can help us win, a solid contributor in the fourth or fifth spot."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.