Bartolo Colón wants to launch an MLB comeback effort. The Tigers should be the ones to sponsor his effort and bring Big Sexy to Detroit.
In an interview with ESPN, Bartolo Colón stated in no uncertain terms that he still wants to pitch in the major leagues. Over the course of his lengthy career, Colón has donned the uniforms of a third of the league’s teams, racking up years and years of service time in the major leagues. His most recent stint in affiliated baseball was as the Texas Rangers’ fifth starter in 2018, resulting in a 5.78 ERA over 146.0 innings pitched. Although he’s over a year removed from his last showing in the bigs, the Tigers should be the one to give him his chance.
I’m not even remotely kidding.
Signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic, Colón pitched his first professional season in 1994. After reaching the major leagues in 1997 and slotting into the Indians’ rotation, he was a stalwart of MLB pitching staffs every year until 2018. In the two decades that span eclipsed, he quickly established himself as one of the preeminent masters of the touch-and-feel pitching style. It’s a style that served him well as he pitched well into an age range that, by baseball standards, borders on elderly. Next week, he’ll celebrate his 47th birthday, making him far older than any player anywhere in the majors.
Luckily for Colón, his skillset seems to be ageless. Unlike power pitchers who lose the bite (and therefore, the effectiveness) of their pitches as they age, he still refuses to walk batters and remained an innings-eater even as he reached his mid-40s, playing at a whisker above replacement level all the while.
A major league opportunity may not have come his way in 2019, but Colón never stopped practicing. His Instagram account is filled with videos of himself throwing in bullpens as recently as late March and against live hitters as recently as mid-February.
Colón is entirely cognizant of how his age impacts the way major league teams are likely to view his potential. “When you get older, teams no longer need your services,” he stated in his interview with ESPN.
For the Tigers, though, the value Colón could bring to the team has to do with more than just how well he pitches. It’s obvious that he likely won’t be in line for any awards at season’s end, but it’s not as though Detroit has to worry about damaging their chances of snagging a playoff spot either. The organization’s top priority at the moment is clearly the development of their young starting pitching corps. The presence of a guy like Colón on a one-year provides some padding on the back end of the major league pitching staff.
The same reasoning applied to the signing of Iván Nova. The team is preventing a scenario that would force one of the organization’s top prospects to leap into a role he’s unprepared to take, thus jeopardizing the final stage of his development.
It’s also hard to quantify what Colón can do for a team just by being around. He’s reputedly a tremendous asset in the clubhouse, if simply for his radiant joy.
“He’s hilarious,” catcher and then-teammate Chris Gimenez said to Pioneer Press in 2017. “He runs around, joking around, stepping on cups, making noise in the dugout. He’s got this foam roller, and he bangs it around. He scares everybody all the time. He’s just having fun. He’s a 44-year-old who’s 12.”
One of the few intangibles that often can make a huge difference is sports is morale. As evidence of that fact, look no further than the final chapter in Nick Castellanos’ time with Detroit. As it became clear that the team was going nowhere and wanted to trade him, he was miserable and his perfomance lagged. Traded to a contender, his offensive output suddenly skyrocketed and he was a key part of the Cubs’ stretch run. True, it’s hard to be keep morale up on a team that consistently loses far more than it wins. Adding a player to the clubhouse who will reliably improve morale could help the Tigers stay in fighting shape for a larger number of their games.
Tigers skipper Ron Gardenhire also values experience in his players and coaches. There’s no player in the game with more experience under his belt than Colón. He’s been through just about everything and survived both the so-called “Moneyball” and “TrackMan” revolutions. He has a huge amount of experience he can impart to younger, less seasoned players.
Finally, he’d be a huge asset in keeping fan interest up as the team returns to the field. If it comes back in 2020, baseball will be taking a shape unlike anything in living memory. If the MLB does their usual poor job of marketing itself, it will present a challenge for teams to attract viewer attention. What better way could there be for the Tigers than by fielding perhaps the most universally beloved player of his era? His single career home run is among the most memorable moments of the last decade of baseball and being able to leverage that event for their own use would be a dream for any PR department.
Let’s be honest, what does anyone have to lose in this arrangement? Colón expressly stated that, while he would like to return to the Mets, he would be open to an opportunity with any major league team. A league-minimum contract is far from a burden on the Tigers’ payroll and a replacement-level pitcher would be far from a burden on their on-field performance. The front office could also use it as an opportunity to buy some goodwill with the fans, which, frankly, would struggle to get much lower.
You know what you have to do, Al Avila. Bring Big Sexy to Detroit.