Atlanta Braves: Reasons for Signing Dickey and Colon

Sep 27, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Bartolo Colon (40) looks on from the dugout during the sixth inning against Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The reaction from fans seems to be generally favorable toward the twin geriatric signings of Dickey and Colon this week.  But for the rest… there really is a good reason for doing this.

It you want to understand why the Atlanta Braves are doing what they are doing in signing R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon this week, you have to go back in recent history a bit.

It really comes down to one word:  stability.

  • In 2013 the Braves used 21 pitchers for the entire year – that’s starters and relievers.
  • 2014:  20 pitchers.
  • 2015:  37 pitchers, including 10 starters.
  • 2016:  35 pitchers, with sixteen different starters used.

It’s a stark contrast.

For the past 2 years, Atlanta has been trying to fill gaps and bring in cheap back-of-the-rotation guys while expecting that new prospect pitchers would shortly be ready to go.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t worked out as hoped – only one of these prospects has stepped up to take a role in the majors (Mike Foltynewicz), and that has led to a seemingly endless commuter bus of pitchers going back and forth from Atlanta to AAA.

Consistenly Changing

In addition to providing inconsistent results, that revolving door is really messing with the development of these guys.  For instance, John Gant was called up something like six different times in 2016.  That make it extremely hard to gain any consistency at either level.

So now, while we still have a large batch of pitchers who could make the majors and be contributors, virtually all of them need a while to regroup.

On top of that, the organization decided that the lack of progress for these top-tier pitchers was the fault of Roger McDowell, and thus he has now been replaced by Chuck Hernandez.

So now the pitching program is in the process of being reshaped in Hernandez’ mold.  While necessary, it’s still a work that will be in process for a while – which will likely introduce yet another change in the routines for pitchers at all levels.

Jun 25, 2016; Anaheim, CA, USA; Los Angeles Angels starting pitcher Jhoulys Chacin (49) in the first inning of the game against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

We Need a New Plan

So: with all of that as a backdrop, John Coppolella had made it clear that he wanted some veterans to come in and provide more than just stop-gap support.

So this time, we don’t have a Jhoulys Chacin or Bud Norris or Wandy Rodriguez or Roberto Hernandez getting signed – guys that needed to rebuild value after having various issues of their own.

Would more pitchers like that have worked?  Frankly, it’s odds of less than a coin flip.  Here’s some full-year stats on those stop-gappers:

  • Chacin in 2016:  144 innings, 4.81 ERA
  • Norris:  113 innings, 5.10 ERA.
  • Hernandez:  9 innings, 8.00 ERA,
  • Rodriguez in 2015:  86 innings, 4.90 ERA.
  • Trevor Cahill: 32 innings, 5.40 ERA.
  • Eric Stults:  47 innings, 5.85 ERA.

That’s where the Atlanta Braves have been in the past 2 seasons.

Really Was Only 2 Choices

When you go through the lists of the top free agents and consider proposed contract terms as fangraphs.com did, you quickly realize that almost all of the pitchers want 2+ year deals.

That’s not where the Braves want to be right now.

Indeed, there are only a pair of starters with the following resumes:

  • Would entertain a 1-year deal
  • Routinely will give you 180+ innings

Their names are R.A. Dickey and Bartolo Colon.  All of the others either have durability questions or they want longer term deals.

They are not the best starting pitchers on the free agent lists.  That honor goes to guys like Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, and Jason Hammel.

Who’s next?  Ivan Nova and Edinson Volquez?  How about Brett CecilAndrew Cashner?  Any of those names excite you?

But many those players will demand – and receive – deals in the 3-5 year range that are worth upwards of $15-20 million per year.

The worst case scenario for the Braves would be wanting one of these “better” pitchers, giving them more money, and then still being in the same boat as before.

Atlanta just picked up two – for $20.5 million of total guaranteed money.

Damage Control

Meanwhile Colon and Dickey will give up a few runs, but they will also keep you in games… the opposition just doesn’t get a lot of big innings of either of these guys.

  • Dickey in his twenty-nine 2016 starts:  6+ runs allowed four times
  • Colon:  just 3 times in 33 starts.

They will be added to Julio Teheran and Mike Foltynewicz to be the backbone of the rotation.  If there needs to be a spot start to support one of these four, Josh Collmenter will be waiting in the wings as the “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” guy.

Sep 23, 2016; Miami, FL, USA; Atlanta Braves starting pitcher Matt Wisler (37) throws during the sixth inning against the Miami Marlins at Marlins Park. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

2017 and Beyond

Now that leaves a question for the 5th spot in the rotation. As noted previously, the Braves now have the luxury of sitting back and watching the rest of the off-season unfold… at least in terms of pitching.  But they always have the choice to upgrade as well, should the possibility present itself.

We still don’t know what plans are for Matt Wisler.  He could be called upon at the ‘normal’ 5th starter… but…

I’ve mentioned that I believe Coppy wants to bring in one more frontline starter (he’s been quoted saying this, too), and Wisler is probably the key guy – along with a package of others – that he might use at trade bait.

But again:  because of the signings this week, the Braves are now in a position where they don’t have to make a trade… but I do think they want to…. partly to alleviate crowding on their 40-man roster; partly to improve the major league roster.

A QUICK ASIDE…

It’s funny how these things blossom sometimes.  We laid out a scenario a few weeks ago in which the Braves could plausibly pursue Justin Verlander, given the Tigers’ desire to reduce payroll.

Apparently that developed into a full-blown rumor out of our pure speculation.  But let’s just put this to bed now:  after spending $20 million on these two pitchers… nothing like that is gonna happen (though it should also validate that the money to do so was there).

That actually made its way to Sirius/XM’s MLB Network Radio today… and Dave O’Brien ended up having to address the topic, strange as that sounds:

So to the extent that Ryan and I more-or-less started this… sorry, but y’all need to read more closely!

In Absence of a Trade…

If that doesn’t happen, then you still have a bunch of candidates for that 5th spot in the rotation:  Wisler, Aaron Blair, Williams Perez, Sean Newcomb, Tyrell Jenkins, Rob Whalen, Joel De La Cruz, John Gant, Lucas Sims and Chris Ellis – just off the top of my head.

That’s 10 names that would be a heckuva AA and AAA rotation, and in fact, it’s really too many for AA and AAA with others in the system… so that’s another reason I think a trade is possible.

But for guys who remain, the Braves have effectively put them all on notice:  there will be no social promotions here… if you want a job in the majors, you’re gonna have to earn it… after all, they just spent $20 million in delivering that message to these guys.

Nonetheless, with 1 year deals for Colon and Dickey (though Dickey has an option for 2018), the path to the majors is not blocked at all for any of those 10 pitchers.

Don’t Look Now, But…

At the same time, another wave is coming:  Max Fried, Patrick Weigel, and Max Povse could be knocking on the door by 2018.  Kolby Allard and Mike Soroka won’t be very far behind them.  And after that is the big draft class from this year.

So there’s literally wave after wave of pitching coming… if their development gets a chance to finish.  That’s the idea here.

The best case scenario might be that 1 or 2 guys step up in AAA and make Colon or Dickey expendable via trade around mid-season.  But if not, that’s still okay.

It will also be interesting to see where the Braves are in the standings by then.  But the goal is to stabilize the rotation by having guys that will provide a lot of innings, keep the team competitively in ball games, and give the offense a chance to win.

And everybody’s already looking forward to Bartolo Bobblehead night.

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