I have just one wish for this offseason. When I’m sitting here refreshing MLB Trade Rumours and avoiding doing actual work, I’m hoping for news about one particular star free agent. No, not Bryce Harper. Certainly not Manny ‘I’m never going to be Jonny Hustle’ Machado. Patrick Corbin? Craig Kimbrel? Whatever. The man I want to know about is Big Sexy himself, Bartolo Colón. And I want him on my team.
I want the Blue Jays to sign him mostly because he’s the kind of interesting, joyful player who is a lot of fun to watch, regardless of stats (and his career stats are pretty interesting anyway). But I also think it could make sense for the Jays. They’re not going to be making headlines this offseason with huge deals for big name free agents. GM Ross Atkins believes they will be competitive in 2-3 years. As per MLB Trade Rumours, “Given that even the veteran names in the rotation aren’t certainties, Toronto will look at adding at least one experienced arm on a short-term contract, similar to their signing of Jaime Garcia last winter (obviously with better results, the team hopes).”
In the short term, they’ll be looking for a veteran who can eat innings, and Bartolo certainly has a talent for that (as well as a recently proven one for eating ribs). Bartolo had a better season in 2018 than Jaime Garcia, just as a brief point of comparison, with a WAR of 0.5 to Garcia’s -0.5. He was in the Rangers’ starting rotation for some of the season, but also pitched a lot of innings in relief, proving his experience and versatility, and the Jays could use someone with that flexibility as they go into the 2019 season with a lot of question marks around their pitching. He’s said that he wants to pitch in 2019, and a 45-year-old Cy Young winner and four-time all-star in the twilight of his major league career will, in my estimation, pitch hard and play hard because he has something to prove. He also throws a lot of strikes, and can still outrun some of the fastest players in MLB.
He’d also be inexpensive at a time when the Jays won’t be splashing out. He signed with the Rangers for the 2018 season on a minor league contract for $1.75 million, with an invitation to Spring Training. Given that his 2018 stats are worse than 2017, the Jays could most likely get him for less. They’d have little to lose by inking him to a similar deal, but so much to gain.
Bartolo is the last remaining active MLB player who played for the Montreal Expos (as an interesting aside, veteran Jays catcher Russell Martin was drafted by the Expos out of high school but went to college instead and was drafted by the Dodgers three years later). He played part of the 2002 season for the Expos, a team that at the time also included none other than Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero. With top prospect in baseball Vladimir Guerrero Jr. coming up to the majors in 2019, assuming the Jays front office doesn’t find some excuse to hold him back, wouldn’t it be a cool bit of baseball history to have Bartolo on the same team as the son of his former Expos teammate?
This, among other reasons, could go some way to bringing more fans to the Rogers Centre, which saw a dip in attendance in 2018 compared to previous years. Bartolo brings with him a host of promotional opportunities, as the Twins found when they held Big Sexy Night in 2017 (which, incidentally, was a 4-3 win for the Jays). Bartolo is a great story, and it’s stories that get people interested in baseball, as I’ve shown in my books columns for this site.
More than that, Bartolo isn’t just one story. He is many. He’s stories all the way down. Stories like how many pop culture fads have come and gone during his major league career. Stories like the fact that he has faced more of the 2018 Red Sox’s coaching staff than its players in his career. Stories like that fact that he has faced both Cody Bellinger and Cody’s dad, Clay Bellinger, on the mound in his career.
Bartolo has previously vowed to pitch until he’s 45. He is now 45, so this may well be the last season of his record-setting, trailblazing career. And selfishly, I’d like that story to align with the story of the team I support. Can you blame me?
If you answered yes, wrong answer. You’d want him on your team too. Whichever team gets him for the 2019 season will be lucky, if only for the opportunity to see him hit his second and possibly final career home run, following his first with the Mets in 2016. The Blue Jays’ first game of 2019 in a National League park will be on May 14th, and if Bartolo isn’t starting that game, I’ll be just a little emotional. I might need to watch his first home run again to make it all better.