By Ernie Palladino
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Looking at it in purely accounting terms, Bartolo Colon’s departure Friday for Atlanta saved the Mets around $12 million, which should now be added to the effort to re-sign Yoenis Cespedes.
On one hand, it made perfect sense to let Colon flee to Atlanta. He’s going to be 44 next May, after all. And how often can a team keep going to the well with a guy so close to collecting a full Social Security check?
Besides that, the savings amounts to a little less than half the Mets will have to pay Cespedes next season, assuming he’s willing to come back for a reported potential offer of four years at $110 million. Having that kind of cushion in Sandy Alderson’s kitty should make a huge push for the Cuban slugger even easier.
But one wonders if the Mets still could have found a way to bring back their roundish, good-natured veteran, not just because he was fun to watch with that wild, go-for-broke swing and amazing fielding plays, but because he produced, too.
It’s not like the Mets couldn’t use a 15-8 pitcher next year. There is no guarantee that Cespedes and his lineup igniter won’t go for more years and bigger money elsewhere. If the Mets can’t get him, or at least replace him with another big bat like Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion, the Mets’ run production may revert to their paltry pre-Cespedes days.
As it was, they finished 25th in runs scored in 2016. Take away Cespedes or a suitable replacement, and one can see how important pitching depth could become.
Even with Cespedes, pitching remained the hallmark of this year’s wild card team. While Terry Collins watched three-fifths of his original rotation hit the disabled list, Colon stood out as the one steady entity. His 33 starts led the staff and came in three above Noah Syndergaard. The 3.43 ERA over a team-high 191 2/3 innings was far from shabby, especially for an old man.
But it’s that three-fifths thing that gnaws at the psyche. A lot is being made of the cramped quarters among the starters now. Matt Harvey will be back, as will Steven Matz and Jacob deGrom. Throw in Zack Wheeler and successful fill-ins Seth Lugo and Robert Gsellman, and one can see that six far younger pitchers will be competing for five spots.
That’s if they all stay healthy, that is. The Mets might have considered re-signing Colon as a hedge — granted, an expensive one — against another deluge of injuries.
Can’t happen two years in a row? Don’t get too comfortable. These are the Mets we’re talking about, a team where all species of roster calamities hover around Citi Field.
They could have thrown Colon into the starting competition easily enough by sacrificing the 23-year-old Gsellman to Triple A-Las Vegas. Though he did well enough with a 4-2 record and 2.42 ERA over seven starts, Gsellman would probably benefit from a full season in the Pacific Coast League.
He didn’t exactly tear it up over there. With a 1-5 record over nine starts, what the Mets got out of him last year was pure gravy.
Gsellman might well wind up over there again, anyway. Or in the bullpen, which would have been another option for Colon. They could have thrown him into the rotational competition and, if he couldn’t break in there, started him out in long relief.
That way, he’d be available if the parade to the MRI machine commenced once again.
Instead, Atlanta now gets a chance to benefit from an old man who genuinely knows how to pitch. And Colon and his 233 wins will get a chance to challenge Juan Marichal’s 243 as the most by a Dominican pitcher and Dennis Martinez’ 245 as most by a Latin American.
Meanwhile, the fans in Atlanta will have a ball watching Big Sexy cavort on the diamond.
He will be missed here.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino