Welcome to One Last Move, where our writers pitch a move to the Mets that would close out their off-season and make the team better in 2019.
In spite of the numerous upgrades the Mets have made this off-season, the one area that the team has not made much of an effort to bolster is the starting rotation. Granted, the top four combination of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, and Steven Matz looks pretty solid on paper, but Jason Vargas is Jason Vargas, and the backup options in the event of an injury range from uninspiring to horrifying. And considering the rash of DL trips that this rotation has endured over the years, the Mets would be wise to plan for the worst and build a team that would be able to survive (at least over the short-term) a scenario in which multiple regular starting pitchers go down at the same time.
Of course, the Mets are not very likely to have much money left over after the moves they’ve already made, so some of the more exciting moves that we might want to fantasize about are unlikely to occur. But that doesn’t mean that Brodie Van Wagenen and company should be giving up on trying to secure more rotation depth. Realistically, however, any starting pitcher that they would sign would need to be someone who we know will be willing to take a minor league deal. Such a player should also be someone that can be relied on to maintain some measure of consistency in their ability to eat innings and take the mound every fifth day, even if he’ll give up a decent amount of runs. And it would also be pretty great if this player could provide a positive presence in the clubhouse and help guide some of the younger players, especially during spring training. And jeez, if we wanted to be really spoiled, wouldn’t it be awesome if this hypothetical pitcher also already had some familiarity with the organization from having already played here?
There is only one answer. You know it, and I know it. It’s time to bring Big Sexy home.
Look, GIFs and memes aside, it’s actually really hard to find fault with the idea of signing Bartolo Colon to a minor league deal. The reason such a move would make sense, to be clear, is not because he is a particularly good major league pitcher at this stage in his career; if he were, then he would likely receive a guaranteed contract. But the 5.78 ERA he posted in 146.1 innings last season with the Texas Rangers is probably more or less the player he is right now, and we shouldn’t have any illusions to the contrary. But while he might not provide sterling production on the mound, he is still able to offer stability and leadership, and a team can never really get enough of those two things.
On the stability point: while Colon may struggle to keep runs off the board, he nevertheless still demonstrates the ability to take the mound every fifth day and to eat up innings that would otherwise be taxed onto the bullpen. Regardless of his ERA, averaging 5.8 innings per game over 24 starts—as he did last season with the Rangers—is pretty remarkable for a 45-year-old pitcher, and it’s certainly as much as any team can reasonably expect from its sixth or seventh starter on the depth chart. And if we want to give ourselves some reason to hope that he could at least moderately improve upon his production from last year, we could note that the shift back to the National League and to a more pitcher-friendly ballpark can only help him. It may not be ideal to have a guy like Colon making starts for the team on a consistent basis, but is it significantly worse than having someone like Chris Flexen make them? We more or less know what type of player Colon would be, and that player, while not necessarily exciting, is important for a playoff-caliber major league team to have as depth.
We also can’t deny the potential benefits of having Colon back within the Mets’ clubhouse. It’s understandable why we would be used to mocking the idea of “VETERAN PRESENCE” when that rationale is used so often to justify the presence of washed-up players. But even though it’s an annoying cliché, we shouldn’t be blind to the fact that there are circumstances in which the insights and wisdom that a veteran player can offer to younger players can help to spark genuine improvement on the baseball field. In fact, we have every reason to believe that the Mets have already benefited from that with Colon, as Jeurys Familia has credited him for helping him become a successful major league player. Numerous other pitchers and coaches on the team have cited him as a positive influence, and while it’s hard to quantify exactly how much that resulted in tangible improvements on the field, we also can’t deny the possibility that his presence did make an impact. There is thus potential value that Colon could offer which most of the other pitching options on the market could not, and while that’s not necessarily as important as how well he would be able to perform as a player, it’s not nothing.
Would Colon agree to play in the minor leagues if the Mets wanted to break camp without him on the major league squad? He might not, in which case he would undoubtedly be released so he could look for a major league opportunity. But even if that did happen, the Mets would still have benefited from having him around to help guide some of the younger pitchers during spring training. And in the scenario where the rotation did suffer a few injuries before the season began, Colon could step in and help keep things afloat until the regulars returned. And in doing so, he would also give us some more opportunities to watch one of the most amusing, unique, remarkable players the team has had on their roster in quite some time. There’s a lot to gain and not much to lose, so the Mets should go ahead and make their rotation sexy again.