★ ★ ★
No 41, Alex Colomé: -10.9 rWAR
We had a closer competition in spring training. The end of 2022 was a far cry from the roster battle that existed at Salt River Fields, however.
Two Colorado relievers were issued more than $4 million in contracts for 2022 alone. Daniel Bard and Alex Colomé were the seventh- and eighth-highest-paid Rockies in 2022, but the performance of one was far different than the near-All-Star showing of the other.
The Road To Signing
After pitching a lights-out 2020 with the Chicago White Sox (22 1⁄3 IP, 0.81 ERA), Colomé joined the Minnesota Twins in 2021 where he posted a 4.15 ERA in 65 innings. The Twins declined Colomé’s $5.5 million mutual option for 2022, instead buying him out for $1.25 million and leaving the veteran right-hander to test the free agent market.
The signing of Colomé created some high-leverage options for the Rockies bullpen (which was only furthered with a dominant Tyler Kinley early in the year). Spring training was suddenly a proving ground for 33-year-old Colomé and then-36-year-old Bard, both in consideration for the ninth-inning relief role. FanGraphs’ depth charts went as far as placing Colomé in the closer spot just hours after his signing.
That role did not stand upon Opening Day – and it remained that way through the 2022 season.
(Hey, high-leverage work should be deliberate at times, after all.)
The Dodgers posted four hits on Colomé that night, cutting his Rockies debut to just 2⁄3 of an inning. Damage was limited to one run, and his three innings to follow would be scoreless, but a tough end to April would push his ERA above five.
The first impression wasn’t strong, but there were glimpses of dominant performance. A two-pitch mix of fastballs and cutters served as a contrast to other arms in the Rockies bullpen, and with so much money committed to the veteran, it wouldn’t make sense to give up on him early.
May, June Domination
After one month of the regular season, Tyler Kinley and Daniel Bard were the clear frontrunners for high-leverage work.
Arizona middle reliever Joe Mantiply was named a 2022 All-Star, which suggested that Kinley (if not for injury) and Bard (if numbers were ‘slightly’ better) could have been selections themselves. This, for understandable reasons, took high-leverage opportunities away from other Rockies relievers.
Colomé’s body of work was limited to just 15 1⁄3 innings through the first two months of the season, but May (2.08 ERA, 8 2⁄3 IP) was far better than April (5.40 ERA, 6 2⁄3 IP).
He didn’t allow an earned run in 11 of his first 16 outings of the year, which was slightly below league average, but from May 16 through June 18, he would allow just one earned run in 17 consecutive appearances. This pushed Colomé’s season ERA to a 2.13 at that point, and the Rockies were suddenly looking at a legitimate replacement for the injured Kinley.
Colomé posted a 1.38 ERA in the month of June (13 IP).
July, August, September Setbacks
That month-by-month ERA would dip to a 4.19 in July, 18.00 in August, and 19.64 in September. The final impression lifted Colomé’s season ERA to a 5.74, and there was little success to speak of with respect to the $4.1 million he was paid.
Colomé completed the season with four saves in seven total opportunities. This was not his job, as the opportunities went to Bard most often, but a lack of conversion in opportunities he did receive sent a message for what his role would be — and perhaps for the Rockies to assemble a separate bullpen contract.
The Signing Motive
The Rockies issued a two-year extension for Daniel Bard shortly before the 2022 trade deadline, which suggests the club did not, and will not, skimp on well-compensated relievers in an environment where late-inning success is particularly essential (no matter the projected win-loss record).
Bullpen signings can be volatile. Rockies fans saw this firsthand with the ‘super bullpen’ trio of Wade Davis, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw. It perhaps goes to prove how relief pitcher signings, no matter how absolute they may appear on paper, are subject to variance unseen in nearly any other profession.
The asking price for Colomé going forward is likely beneath the figure the Rockies paid him in 2022. Now a free agent, and anticipating his age-34 season, the clock could be ticking on his well-travelled career.