The Nationals announced Friday that they’ve signed veteran reliever Alex Colome to a minor league contract and invited him to Major League spring training. Colome is represented by Wasserman. According to Jesse Dougherty of The Washington Post, Colome has long been on the Nationals’ radar.
Colome, 34, pitched for the Rockies last year and struggled mightily. In 47 innings, he posted a 5.74 ERA, 14.9 K%, and 10.2 BB%. The silver lining was a career-best 55.6% groundball rate, which ranked tenth in the National League for relievers with at least 40 frames. That allowed Colome to post a slightly above-average 0.96 HR/9 despite half his innings coming at Coors Field.
Some of Colome’s best work came with the Rays, the team that signed him as an 18-year-old out of the Dominican Republic. He made his lone All-Star team in 2016, and led MLB in saves the following year. The Rays traded Colome to the Mariners in 2018, who shipped him to the White Sox six months later. He’s since signed a series of one-year deals in free agency, first with the Twins and then with the Rockies.
2022 represented the first time Colome failed to tally double digit saves since 2015, which was also the last season he was used partially as a starter. The Rockies chose to give their highest-leverage work and most save opportunities to Daniel Bard. Colome spent part of the summer as manager Bud Black’s third-most trusted reliever, but fell out of favor around August. His ERA stood at 3.20 on July 30th, and then he proceeded to allow 16 earned runs over his next 7 2/3 innings to close out his season. Those innings came over 12 appearances, as he recorded zero or one out in five of them. Perhaps on a related note, Colome had an IL stint in August for right lateral epicondylitis, also known as tennis elbow. He also spent some time on the bereavement list in September.
Colome has put together a ten-year MLB career with 159 saves, despite missing bats at an above-average clip only twice: in 2016 and 2018. His control, once pretty strong, has slipped into the 9 BB% range since he joined the White Sox. Around that same point in his career, Colome started abandoning his four-seam fastball for a cutter. That has at least allowed him to post a 54.2% groundball rate since 2020. There was a point when Colome was at least limiting hard contact, but last year 10% of the batted balls he allowed were barrels, which is not a good place to be.
Coming off the season he had, the most important factor in free agency is opportunity, and Colome chose the right team for that. The Nationals’ highest-leverage reliever from last year, Tanner Rainey, underwent Tommy John surgery in August. Holdovers include Kyle Finnegan, Carl Edwards Jr., Victor Arano, and Hunter Harvey. Some of those pitchers had better years than you might have realized, but the rebuilding Nats are a good destination for a veteran reliever trying to rebuild value.
The Nats also brought Sean Doolittle and Francisco Perez back on a minor league deals and retained Erasmo Ramirez on a $1MM contract, so their ’pen features surprisingly little turnover. Anthony Banda will also fight for a job in spring training, having signed a minor league deal after pitching for the Pirates, Blue Jays, and Yankees last year.
Perhaps working against a Colome resurgence, USA Today’s Bryan Kalbrosky has noted that he was one of the game’s slowest workers in 2022. With the implementation of a pitch clock at 15 seconds with bases empty and 20 seconds with runners on, Colome will have to speed things up to avoid getting penalized.