The Braves’ average age officially ticked up a few notches Thursday when the team announced the signing of 43-year-old pitcher Bartolo Colon, a former Cy Young Award winner who agreed to the one-year, $12.5 million deal last week.
They’ve already added a pair of former Cy Young winners in Colon and Dickey, and the Braves are aiming even higher as they continue discussions with the White Sox about a possible trade for ace left-hander Chris Sale.
Colon, who’ll turn 44 in May, went 15-8 with a 3.43 ERA in 191 2/3 innings in 2016 for the Mets and made the All-Star team for the fourth time. It was the fourth consecutive season that the hefty and immensely popular “Big Sexy” made at least 30 starts and pitched at least 190 innings.
He showed no sign of fatigue, going 6-2 with a 3.17 ERA in his final 12 starts while allowing two earned runs or fewer in nine of those games.
The Dominican right-hander will enter his 20th season with 233 wins, third-most by a Latin American-born pitcher. Another good season could move Colon to the top of the list, as he’s not far behind Dennis Martinez (245) and Juan Marichal (243).
Colon agreed to the contract Friday, a day after the Braves signed 42-year-old knuckleballer R.A. Dickey to a one-year, $7.5 million contract that includes an $8 million team option for 2018 with a $500,000 buyout. Colon’s deal doesn’t have an option year in 2018.
After getting shaky results from a patchwork rotation for most of 2016 and disappointing results from some young pitchers and prospects, the Braves wanted to add at least two veteran starters on one-year deals this offseason, preferably through free agency so they wouldn’t have to give up prospects in trades.
The Braves got that done well before Thanksgiving, much less the Winter Meetings in December. They also re-signed veteran starter/reliever Josh Collmenter to a one-year deal. And they’re not done.
They’ve had talks with teams about trading for still another starter, most notably Sale, 27, a native of Lakeland, Fla. The five-time All-Star left-hander is under contractual control for three more seasons at below-market rates — $38 million total in that three-year span including two option years — and has finished in the top five of the American League Cy Young Award balloting for four consecutive seasons after finishing sixth in his first season as a starter in 2012.
The Braves have also inquired about the Rays’ Chris Archer and Athletics’ Sonny Gray, but Sale is their focus, a person familiar with the situation said.
The price for Sale could be enormous, likely a package including multiple top prospects. The Braves have said they’re not at a point in their rebuild where they’re ready to trade top prospects to fill in gaps, but to get an ace they seem at least willing to consider changing that plan.
Dickey and Colon have reputations for being strong leaders and mentors willing to share wisdom with younger pitchers. That might ease some of the burden for incumbent opening-day starter and All-Star Julio Teheran, who returns along to the rotation presumably with Mike Foltynewicz and possibly Matt Wisler, though Wisler could end up competing with several other pitchers for only one available spot.
“We are thrilled to add a veteran of Bartolo’s caliber to our club,” Braves general manager John Coppolella said in a news release Thursday. “He will be valuable to us both on the field and in the clubhouse and it will be exciting to watch him chase baseball records during a historic season for the Braves franchise.”
Colon has a 233-162 and 3.93 ERA in 509 games (500 starts) and leads active pitchers in career wins, starts and innings (3,172 1/3). He’s second among active pitchers in strikeouts (2,365), complete games (36) and shutouts (13).
Colon signed with Cleveland in 1993, eight months before Braves rookie Dansby Swanson was born. He won an American League Cy Young Award with the Angels in 2005.
His three 15-win seasons after turning 40 are tied for second-most in major league history, two behind knuckleballer Phil Niekro, whose five such seasons included four with the Braves.
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