KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The Atlanta Braves were ready to add some more experience to their starting rotation — and boy, did they succeed.
Bartolo Colon, the 43-year-old right-hander whose longevity and jovial disposition have turned him into one of the game’s fan favorites, joined Atlanta in November. Around the same time, the Braves acquired R.A. Dickey, the 42-year-old knuckleballer who is one of baseball’s elder statesmen — but whose big league debut back in 2001 came four years after Colon’s.
After three straight losing seasons, the Braves are hoping for a bright future led by young pitching as they move into a new ballpark. In Colon and Dickey, they’ve certainly acquired knowledgeable mentors.
“It’s not bad to have that experienced guy like that to lean on a little bit. There were times last year when I thought … some of our young guys, that we lacked that, that veteran presence,” manager Brian Snitker said Wednesday. “You can learn a lot just by watching.”
Dickey returns to the National League for the first time since 2012, when the right-hander won 20 games and the Cy Young Award for the New York Mets. He spent the past four seasons with Toronto.
Colon has a Cy Young to his credit as well, from back in 2005 when he was with the Los Angeles Angels. He’s the active leader in wins with 233, a total that ranks third among pitchers born in Latin America behind fellow Dominican Republic native Juan Marichal (243) and Nicaragua native Dennis Martinez (245).
Colon says he’d like to be able to provide about 30 starts and 180 innings, marks he’s reached each of the last four seasons. The home run he hit for the Mets last year at San Diego was one of the highlights of the season, and on the mound, there’s no telling how much longer he can keep this up.
“I always used to tell my mother, God rest her soul, that I always wanted to play until I was 45 years old,” Colon said through a translator.
Colon and Dickey have achieved their longevity through different methods. Dickey throws a knuckleball, while Colon has reinvented himself as something of a control specialist, posting the five lowest walk rates of his career from 2012-16.
“I remember in Texas, watching the guy throw 98,” Dickey said. “He was a Cleveland Indian and I was pitching against him, and that was back in 2001. Just to see his metamorphosis to what he is now from what he was then, and to see him use that in a successful way is very impressive.”
Colon has admired Dickey’s work as well.
“I definitely followed him a lot during his Cy Young year, watched him closely and followed him,” Colon said. “It’s great to have him, myself and some of the other veterans here to help the young guys out.”
Of the five pitchers who made more than 10 starts for the Braves last year, Julio Teheran was the oldest. He turned 26 last month and remains an important part of the rotation, but there’s now a bit of a logjam forming for Matt Wisler, Mike Foltynewicz and Aaron Blair, all of whom had notable roles last year.
Atlanta also traded for 30-year-old left-hander Jaime Garcia in an offseason deal with St. Louis.
The Braves finished last in the NL East in 2016, but their 68-93 mark included a 20-10 stretch to end the season. After adding these veteran pitchers — and trading for second baseman Brandon Phillips — Atlanta looks like a team that’s eager to make a big improvement this year in its first season at new SunTrust Park.
If the Braves do make an unexpected move up the standings, Colon and Dickey could give them a boost by eating up innings. And if Atlanta isn’t yet ready to contend for a playoff spot, there’s still some value in having those two 40-something starters on the roster.
Their careers, after all, are worth marveling at.
“It takes an evolving creature to be really good for a long time here,” Dickey said. “For Bartolo and I, we’ve both kind of walked that journey.”