NEW YORK -- In reaction to Bartolo Colon reaching an agreement on a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves this past weekend, Noah Syndergaard tweeted a GIF of Ron Burgundy bawling in a phone booth after his beloved dog Baxter had been booted off a bridge by a biker in the movie “Anchorman.”
“I’m in a glass case of emotion!” Burgundy bellows.
Applied to Colon’s departure, the scene may be a tad melodramatic. Still, the New York Mets will miss the 43-year-old Colon -- for his on-field contributions, his mentoring of young Latin American pitchers and his entertainment value at the plate.
Mets officials were willing to entertain bringing back Colon at a reasonable cost. But once the Braves ponied up $12.5 million for Colon for 2017, pairing him with fellow newly signed 40-something R.A. Dickey, the Mets had to let Colon walk.
That does not mean the Braves made a mistake. With Atlanta, Colon will be guaranteed a rotation spot alongside Dickey, Julio Teheran, Mike Foltynewicz and possibly Josh Collmenter. So the expenditure made more sense.
With the Mets, Colon would have been a safety net. That’s because the rotation in 2017, if everyone is healthy -- admittedly a big if -- should be Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler. And that still leaves Robert Gsellman and Seth Lugo as insurance policies.
So while re-signing Colon may have been sensible for the Mets at somewhere near his $7.25 million salary from 2016, it would not have been prudent at the premium the Braves paid.
When he re-signed with the Mets last winter, Colon had expected to move to the bullpen midway through the season, once Wheeler returned from Tommy John surgery. Of course, not only did Wheeler suffer multiple setbacks and never appear in the majors in 2016, Harvey, deGrom and others suffered injuries as well. So Colon was never dislodged from the rotation.
Colon ultimately went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA while logging 191 2/3 innings spanning 34 appearances (33 starts). The wins, starts and innings pitched all led the Mets.
“He has absolutely saved our rotation by going out there with those quality innings,” manager Terry Collins recently noted. “The wins are great, but it’s the quality innings that he delivers every time he goes out there that not only saves the starting pitchers, it saves the relievers too.”
The heavy workload allowed Colon to increase his career wins total to 233. With a starting opportunity with Atlanta -- one that could not be guaranteed by the Mets -- Colon is within striking distance in 2017 of becoming the all-time winningest Latin American-born pitcher. After Colon passed Pedro Martinez this past season, the only pitchers still ahead of him on that list are fellow Dominican Juan Marichal (243 wins) and Nicaraguan Dennis Martinez (245).
In large part because of his unique physique, which actually belied his athleticism, Mets fans had a special attachment to Colon. A buzz arose each time he stepped to the plate. Fans particularly celebrated each time Colon’s ill-fitting helmet went flying on a wild swing.
No one will forget Colon’s home run against James Shields in San Diego on May 7. At 42 years, 349 days old, Colon became the oldest player in MLB history to produce his first big-league long ball.
At least Colon is staying in the National League and will continue to regularly step in the batter’s box.
Still, Colon does turn 44 in May. And there has to be an expiration date on his career sooner or later. It’s probably better to be a year too early than a year too late in severing ties. The Braves made any debate a no-brainer when they blew away what the Mets were willing to spend.
So while it’s OK to bawl at Colon’s departure, you can still understand why it completely made sense for the Mets to let the popular pitcher walk.