11/10 – Atlanta signs free agent RHP R.A. Dickey to a 1 year deal with a team option for 2018. The contract will be worth $8.0M for 2017 alone, and $15.5M for 2 years.
11/11 – Atlanta signs free agent RHP Bartolo Colon to a 1 year, $12.5M contract (pending a physical¹).
Oh well, a touch of grey kinda suits you anyway
And that was all I had to say and it’s alright
– Jerry Garcia & Robert Hunter, “Touch of Grey”
Atlanta Braves front office members mentioned late in the 2016 season that an offseason priority would be adding veteran starting pitching. After declaring their intentions, they certainly followed through in a timely fashion, adding two former Cy Young winners – R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon – on a pair of short-term contracts. Let’s look at each.
Dickey: 1-yr/$8M or 2-yrs/$15.5M
Technically, Dickey’s deal breaks down as 1 year, $7.5M with an $8M club option for ’17 with a $500K buyout. Functionally, it’s $8M or $15.5M for 1 or 2 years. So, what is Atlanta getting?
The knuckleballer heads to Atlanta for his age-42 season after 4 years in Toronto in which his effectiveness steadily declined. 2013 and 2014 were pretty good years, not on par with his 2013 Cy Young season, but good. In 2015, he stopped striking guys out as much as he used to, and in 2016, while the strikeouts returned, he walked more batters and allowed home runs at an alarming rate. The good news is that the home runs should come back to earth now that he’s no longer pitching half his games in Toronto. The bad news is that he’s a 42-year old who has been in decline.
Atlanta isn’t paying him to be great, however. Atlanta is paying Dickey to do one thing – eat innings, and eat innings he will. He made at least 26 starts every year this decade and had 5 straight years with at least 32 starts and 200 innings before 2016. He hasn’t failed to qualify for rate-stat titles (162 IP) since he played for the Minnesota Twins (I promise he actually once played for the Twins). That’s hardly unusual for a knuckleballer. At this stage in their careers, Charlie Hough and Phil Niekro had a combined 9 years of at least 162 innings still in front of them. The knuckleball doesn’t age poorly because its effectiveness isn’t reliant on the gifts of youth. Tim Wakefield was an All-Star at 42 (although he probably shouldn’t have been).
I don’t think you should expect anything phenomenal from Dickey, but he serves a useful purpose. He can throw innings and keep the team from feeling the need to rush its prospects to the majors before they’re ready. Realistically, 2017 wasn’t going to be a championship season, but it’s likely to be a better season. Dickey’s signing falls in line with that in that he’s a pitcher who could conceivably be part of a surprise leap forward, but the financial commitment doesn’t indicate that expectation. If the Braves leap forward in 2017, Dickey can be an effective 4th or 5th starter. If the Braves don’t, they can either trade him, if he’s still useful, or they can eat the relatively minor financial loss and move on. It’s a low risk, medium upside signing, and for the 2017 Braves, that seems like the right kind of addition.
Be excited, folks. Be very excited.
Should you be excited that Bartolo Colon will push the Braves into playoff contention? Oh, no, don’t be silly. That’s probably not going to happen. Colon is fine, and he should chew innings like they’re a 3rd leg of turkey – astonishingly effortlessly. Like Dickey, Colon relies on one pitch, and it’s kind of boring. It’s an 89 mph fastball that he can throw with rise or sink, and he has pretty impeccable command of it. At some point, Colon, who’ll turn 44 next season, will start to lose that command. At that point, he’ll go from mediocre pitcher to very bad pitcher. But with only 2017 and some money at risk, if that happens sooner rather than later, that’s fine. Disappointing, but fine.
If he’s good and the team’s good, everybody wins. In the event where he’s good and the team’s bad, Atlanta trades him down the stretch for a useful future piece. If he’s bad, it’s one year. The future is not mortgaged. Atlanta’s next playoff team won’t be stunted because of this. $12.5M is the going rate for a league average guy these days, and to get one on a one-year commitment is exactly the kind of move Atlanta, a team just dipping its toes into the transition from rebuild to contention, needed to make.
When it comes to results, Colon and what he brings to the table is rather ho-hum. So why should you be excited? If Colon can stay healthy and effective enough to play regularly, Atlanta is not going to hurt for entertainment:
There’s no statistic that can capture that magic. If WAR stood for Watchability Above Replacement, Bartolo Colon would be Mike Trout.
And finally, an obligatory fun fact:
Bartolo Colon made his MLB debut the day Turner Field opened. He’ll now pitch at the new Braves park. The dude outlasted a stadium.
— Field Yates (@FieldYates) November 11, 2016
¹ – “Pending a physical” might mean something different in this event. With Bartolo Colon, I imagine it’s an automatic pass as long as he doesn’t show up for it in a wheelchair or, you know, dead.