SAN DIEGO — Bartolo Colon and the Braves are no more. Big Sexy has left the building, having been designated for assignment Thursday after the latest in his string of terrible starts for the Braves.
Colon, the oldest active major leaguer at 44, was 2-8 with an 8.14 ERA in 13 starts for the Braves after signing a one-year, $12.5 million free-agent contract in November. The Braves will swallow the remaining salary he’s owed rather than continue to use him as a starter or try him in a relief role for which he seems ill-suited.
“It’s unfortunate for him and for us,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said. “Not sure anybody took it harder than he did when he wasn’t performing. Seems like he felt he owed it to our fans and the Braves to try to have a good season. We wish him the best going forward. He’s a great teammate and a great person. Whatever happens, he’s had a great career.”
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman said, “Yeah, 44 years old. Father Time is going to catch up to you sometime, unfortunately it was with us. But hopefully he gets another chance. Just one of those things. It didn’t work out for us but he was a great teammate, great guy, loved having him around.”
The Braves purchased the contract of left-handed reliever Rex Brothers from Triple-A Gwinnett and he joined the team in San Diego for Thursday night's series finale against the Padres.
The Colon move won’t require an adjustment to the starting rotation, since the Braves were using one extra starter only for the current six-game trip and now have the standard five in the rotation: Julio Teheran, Jaime Garcia, R.A. Dickey, Mike Foltynewicz and rookie Sean Newcomb, who has been up since Colon first went on the disabled list in early June.
Colon was designated after giving up eight hits and six runs in four innings of a 7-4 loss to the Padres on Wednesday in his first start since spending just over three weeks on the disabled list for side and back strains. Braves manager Brian Snitker told him late Wednesday, though the move wasn’t announced until Thursday.
“It’s tough, especially with a guy like that,” Snitker said. “He’s such a quality, classy great teammate that those are never easy. He got it. I mean, he’s been around, he knows what’s going on. But like I say, that’s one of the parts of the job that’s no fun.
“He brought a lot of really good to this club in the short time that he was here. You read about some of the Mets guys (being sad) when he left, and I know why now. I mean, he was good for our young players. It just didn’t work out.”
The former American League Cy Young award winner and winningest active pitcher will be released unless traded, which is entirely unlikely given his dismal performance in a career-worst season.
The only salary relief the Braves could get would be minimal — any team that signs Colon after he’s released would owe him a prorated portion of the major league minimum $535,000 salary for any time spent in the majors for the rest of the season. The Braves would owe the balance of his $12.5 million salary minus that amount.
“Obviously no one’s going to pick him up until he probably clears (waivers), but maybe someone will give him another opportunity and hopefully he does get it and does well with it,” said Freeman, who smiled and added, “I wish him all the best, but hopefully he doesn’t go with the Mets and all of a sudden pitch good against us.”
Colon’s ERA is more than double his 20-year career ERA of 4.02 in 521 games including 513 starts. He had a 3.93 career ERA before this season, and his current 8.14 ERA is nearly two runs higher than the career-worst 6.34 ERA posted in 2007 with the Angels.
The stocky right-hander’s ERA is more than 4 1/2 runs higher than his 3.43 ERA in 2016 with the Mets, when Colon went 15-8 and worked 191 2/3 innings for his fourth consecutive season with at least 190. He was 44-34 with a 3.90 ERA during three seasons with the Mets despite his advanced age, and the Braves gambled that he had enough left in his right arm to produce similar results on a one-year deal.
He and 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey were signed to help bridge the Braves to next season when they could have some of their own pitching prospects ready to plug into the rotation. The Braves traded for Jaime Garcia in the final year of his contract for the same reason.
“You get essentially three one-year guys,” Coppoella said, “there’s always risk associated with one-year-deal guys, for one reason or another.”
Things started well for Colon in April, when he had a .175 opponents’ batting average and .556 opponents’ OPS after his first three starts, including two hits and one run allowed in six innings of his season debut April 5 against the Mets and just one hit and one run allowed in an April 16 win against the Padres for his first win in his Braves home debut.
But he gave up 11 hits in seven innings of his next start April 21 against the Phillies. That began the worst stretch of Colon’s career and a decline that he’s not been able to quell and has, in fact, worsened as the weeks passed.
Beginning with the loss at Philadelphia, Colon went 1-7 with a 9.59 ERA, .381 opponents’ average and 1.050 opponents’ OPS in his past 10 starts. While posting a 10.38 ERA in his past nine starts, Colon pitched five innings or fewer eight times and lasted 5 2/3 innings in his other outing in that period.
The situation reached a breaking point with his past three starts, in which Colon was 0-3 with a 14.40 ERA and .407 opponents’ average, allowing 22 hits and 23 runs (16 earned) in 10 innings and lasting four or fewer innings in each outing.
After giving up seven hits and eight runs in 3 2/3 innings of a June 5 home loss against the Phillies, he was placed on the disabled list for an oblique strain, then scratched from a scheduled start June 20 due to back tightness.
He remained on the DL until Wednesday, when he was activated to face the Padres at pitcher-friendly Petco Park. He gave up two runs again in the first inning and surrendered eight hits and six runs in four innings and 80 pitches before being replaced with the Braves trailing, 6-0. The 7-4 loss was only the third in the past 11 games for the Braves.
Colon was equally ineffective at home and on the road, allowing a .330 opponents’ average and .923 OPS in five home starts and a .343/.958 in eight road starts.
The Braves faced early deficits on a regular basis with Colon pitching, evident in his first-inning stats including a 10.38 ERA, .365 opponents’ average and 1.098 opponents’ OPS.
The numbers improved significantly when he got past three innings, including six earned runs allowed in 11 2/3 fourth innings. But he only made it to the fifth inning in eight of 13 starts and to the sixth inning in four starts.
Colon was particularly bad with runners on base, allowing a .390 average including a staggering .450 (36-for-80) and 1.300 OPS with runners in scoring position.