Braves counting on geriatric pitchers to lead a contender
ATLANTA (AP) With a new stadium nearing completion right across the street, R.A. Dickey chuckled at the idea of not being the Atlanta Braves' oldest starting pitcher next season.
A mere 42, Dickey will be ceding that honor to 43-year-old Bartolo Colon.
''I gave myself the nickname Little Ugly,'' Dickey quipped Friday after formally introduced by the Braves in an office tower overlooking SunTrust Park. ''Big Sexy and Little Ugly are going to be leading it on.''
All kidding aside the Braves insist their unorthodox moves show how serious they are about contending again for a postseason spot.
The major hole in their massive rebuilding plan was the starting rotation. That's where Colon and Dickey come in, giving the Braves two guys who can eat up innings, mentor the younger pitchers and not require the sort of long-term commitment that might block the path of several top prospects who are still a year or two away.
Colon and Dickey both agreed to one-year contracts with a team option for 2018.
''These aren't four- or five-year deals. These won't, theoretically, block any of our kids,'' said general manager John Coppolella. ''It will just give them a little more time. Guys that may have been force-fed up here now have a little more time to get their sea legs under them as they turn into really good big league pitchers.''
In a way, the signings of Dickey and Colon show that the Braves' timetable for a return to postseason contention has been pushed up a bit, coinciding neatly with the move from Turner Field to a $622 million suburban stadium that anchors a massive complex of retail shops, restaurants, office space, residential areas and a hotel.
It was impossible to miss the symbolism of introducing Dickey from an eighth-floor suite that provided an ideal view of SunTrust Park and the furious construction activity going on below.
This is a franchise that has undergone a major overhaul, on and off the field.
''It's a real honor for me to be a part of a very storied franchise that looks like it's on its way to becoming what it once was,'' Dickey said. ''I'm happy to be a part of that growth and hoping that I can add to what they did at the end of the year.''
Despite another 90-plus-loss season and bringing up the rear in the NL East, Atlanta's strong finish indicated that better times aren't too far away. The trade for slugger Matt Kemp and the emergence of players such as Dansby Swanson, Ender Inciarte and Adonis Garcia helped the Braves win 50 of their last 97 games, including a 12-2 spurt to close out the year.
''Our starting eight is really good,'' manager Brian Snitker said. ''Everybody feels very confident in what we've got going on, and rightly so.''
The Braves are still in talks to add another pitcher, perhaps even a top-of-rotation starter such as Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox.
But, for now, Colon and Dickey provide an aging insurance policy.
Colon is coming off an All-Star season with the New York Mets, going 15-8 with a 3.43 and memorably becoming the oldest player to hit his first career homer. Dickey is more of a gamble, slumping down the stretch and getting dropped from Toronto's rotation, but he still had more wins (going 10-15 with a 4.46 ERA) than anyone on the Braves.
''We didn't give up any players. It didn't cost us a draft pick,'' Coppolella said. ''We've been in trade talks for players – pitcher and non-pitchers – but the price of doing business is really expensive right now. So for us to be able to add somebody where it's only money is really important.''
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/paul-newberry