The Braves had the right idea, at least. Sign some low-cost veterans for the rotation, which would serve the dual purpose of a) not forcing them to rush their prospects and b) give the fans a watchable brand of baseball in the brand new ballpark. For the most part, it was a success. R.A. Dickey has kept them in games, Jaime Garcia has done a bit better than that, and the Braves are just under .500, which is somewhere close to their best-case scenario.
It almost all worked out. All of it except for Bartolo Colon, whose ERA ballooned to 8.14 after allowing six runs in four innings against the Padres on Wednesday night. The Braves designated Colon for assignment, and it’s hard to see where he fits on another team.
The baseball world mourns.
Please send donations to firstname.lastname@example.org in lieu of flowers.
Colon was an All-Star as recently as last year, and he was one of baseball’s all-time greatest comeback stories. There are three stages to his career:
Stage 1 was the fireballer, the affable youngster who was remarkable in an unremarkably traditional way. He was an excellent young pitcher, similar to the hundreds of excellent young pitchers who had come before him.
This was a very fun pitcher, but not in a way that was unique to Colon. He signed a big contract with the Angels, and rewarded them with a Cy Young.
Stage 2 was the decline, the injuries. This was a tale as old as time, with the All-Star succumbing to the ravages of time and the limitations of the human body. After averaging 216 innings for eight seasons, Colon spent four seasons falling down the mountain, unable to crack 100 innings in any of them. After four injury-marred seasons, Colon missed the 2010 season entirely. He was 37. He was finished.
And that’s the nondescript story of how Colon’s career ended. Happens to the best of them really.
Except, Stage 3 was born, in which Colon became a fluffy, jovial projection of baseball hopes and dreams. He reinvented himself as a control maven who used 34 different words for the word “fastball.”
He was a one-man response to any skeptics who weren’t sure if baseball could be fun.
And that was just the hitting part. When it came to pitching, he was pure craft:
He set the Mets record for most consecutive innings without a walk (48⅔), and he threw 38 consecutive strikes in a game against the A’s, which was the most by any pitcher since 1988. He lurched back into our consciousness with the Yankees, picked up Cy Young votes with the A’s, and then thrived with the Mets.
Stage 3 lasted six seasons, past Colon’s 43rd birthday. He was a middle finger to age, to our preconceived notions of what a successful baseball player should look like. And even though there were controversies along the way (performance-enhancing drugs and a second family, the usual), he was so much damned fun that he became an essential part of being a baseball fan.
It was his 44th year on the planet that did him in. Colon will likely be the last active player to appear in a game last century, unless Tomo Ohka’s knuckleball is progressing well in an undisclosed location. Colon will be remembered as the ace of an Indians team that needed him, the undoing of an Expos team that didn’t need him, the star of the Angels, the bane of different colored Sox, the surprise of the Yankees, and the gift of the Mets.
The Braves will put Colon on waivers and, assuming he clears, he will become a free agent. What kind of team would want Big Sexy? I regret to inform you that none of them make a lot of sense.
Option #1: A contending team
The problem with this, see, is that Colon has been abominable this season. Not bad. Not really bad. Absolutely abominable. He’s one of just 33 pitchers in history to make more than 10 starts and have an ERA over 8.00. A contending team would need to be pretty desperate to take a chance on a 44-year-old pitcher with those kind of numbers.
The Orioles, then? The Twins? I suppose it’s not inconceivable for a contender to take a chance — he was an All-Star just last year, after all — but his velocity has been declining for a couple years now, and it’s hard to find the reasons for optimism. When a 44-year-old pitcher falls apart, it usually doesn’t take a Blue Ribbon Committee to figure out why.
Option #2: A team out of contention
Nah. This is the time of year when those teams are busy breaking in their rookies, or prepping their veterans for trades to make room. While it made sense for the Braves to get Colon at the beginning of the season, it makes less sense for a non-contender in the middle of the year.
The Phillies, Giants, Padres, et al, have other things to worry about, and they’re all trying to figure out what they’ll look like for 2018 and beyond. Colon won’t be there for those teams, regardless of how much we beg.
So if it wouldn’t make sense for Colon to go to a contender or a non-contender, where could he possibly land? There probably isn’t a spot, not unless he wants to hang out in Triple-A again.
It was just three weeks ago that the Braves gave out a Bartolo Colon bobblehead. And now, it looks like his career might be over. The only thing that makes me stop sort of definitively saying it is over is that Stage 3 was one of the most absurd, unlikely developments in recent memory, and it lasted approximately 30 times longer than anyone could have imagined.
We’ve all written Colon off before. Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to do it again. From here, though, it looks like this might be the end of a very, very fun carnival ride. If so, we should probably be happy that it happened in the first place.