Last Thursday, just seven months after signing him to a one year/$12.5 million free-agent pact, the Atlanta Braves designated veteran right-hander Bartolo Colon for assignment, a development that should come as no surprise to those who have followed his season.
Along with fellow veterans Jaime Garcia and R.A. Dickey, Colon was brought to Atlanta to help hold the fort in the team’s starting rotation while some of the Braves’ heralded young starters continue to develop in the minor leagues, and while Garcia and Dickey have worked out for the club, Colon has been an unmitigated disaster.
In 13 starts for the Braves, the oldest player in the Major Leagues went just 2-8 with an abysmal 8.14 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP, while allowing the opposition to hit a ridiculous .338 against him, and leading to the obvious assumption that at 44 years old Colon’s career has reached the end of the line. But don’t be surprised if a big league team isn’t so quick to jump to that conclusion, particularly Bartolo’s most recent previous employer.
Prior to joining Atlanta Colon spent three seasons in New York with the Mets, in which he won 44 games with an ERA just over 4.00, while posting a sub 1.24 WHIP all three seasons, making an all-star team, hitting a home run, and providing countless laughs on his way to becoming one of the most beloved players in Mets’ history.
Last year was one of the Dominican Republic native’s most productive campaigns, pitching to a 3.43 ERA in 191.2 innings, numbers that make his terrible 2017 season surprising. How does a veteran pitcher go from an all-star to the worst starter in the league in just a few short months? To answer that, I think it’s important to analyze what changed.
In New York, Colon was nothing short of a cult hero. Every flailing swing he took, helmet flying and all, endeared him to the Flushing faithful. Standing behind the mound in the midst of a bases-loaded jam just chewing gum and tossing the ball up and down, helped keep fans ready to panic calm. And his home run last season at Petco Park was literally the second coming of the shot heard ‘round the world. In the middle of a rotation littered with big names such as Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Steven Matz, it was Colon who led New York in wins and innings in all three of his years with the club. And while he was obviously an asset both on the field and at the box office, the veteran was an incredible leader in the team’s clubhouse, particularly with the Latin players, and the other starters.
Earlier this season when Harvey literally went AWOL, Colon was quick to contact him to show support, but also challenge him and make sure he understood he has to be better. When Syndergaard landed on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle, Colon, who had developed a big brother-esque relationship with his much younger former teammate, immediately called him to offer sympathy, and remind him to keep his chin up and get after it with his rehab. From hundreds of miles south it was apparent Colon still had an influence on his former organization, and some in Atlanta even expressed concern he was more concerned with what was going on in Queens than his own team. Which leads us back to the issue at the heart of this article. Does the man affectionately known as “Big Sexy” make sense for the Mets again?
No club is going to claim Colon on waivers and have to pay him the balance of his remaining contract, which means he will inevitably be a free-agent next weekend, meaning an acquiring club would be responsible only for a prorated portion of the veteran’s minimum while Atlanta eats millions of dollars. There is no denying the Bartolo has been bad in 2017, but of the Mets’ 81 games this season, 11 have been started by Rafael Montero, Tyler Pill, Tommy Milone, and Adam Wilk. Let’s put their combined numbers next to Colon’s.
Colon: 63 IP, 57 ER, 92 H, 20 BB, 42 K, 11 HR, 8.14 ERA, 1.78 WHIP
Montero/Pill/ Milone/ Wilk: 50.2 IP, 41 ER, 72 H, 26 BB, 49 K, 10 HR, 7.28 ERA, 1.93 WHIP
The most important thing to note is that both lines are terrible. But the Mets, who currently have Robert Gsellman, as well as Syndergaard and Harvey, currently on the disabled list and thus have a glaring hole at their 5th starter spot, may very well decide a familiar face could be worth bringing back to prevent one of the aforementioned arms from making more starts. And they just might catch lightning in a bottle as a change of scenery for Colon, particularly to the place most insiders believe is his first and only preferred landing spot, could reenergize him down the stretch of what may be his final season.
So Sandy Alderson, and the rest of the Mets front office, do what every Mets fan worldwide is clamoring for and channel your inner Justin Timberlake. Bring Sexy Back.
Justin Mears, Baseline Times MLB Contributor