Mar
10

Past Trade Review: Jose Contreras

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By most appearances, the Yankees were sitting pretty at the 2004 trade deadline. They were 64-38, 7.5 games ahead of the second-place Red Sox and 6.5 games ahead of the next closest AL competitor. On the night before the deadline they defeated the Orioles 2-1 on the strength of a Kevin Brown performance, his first start after spending more than a month on the DL. The team looked poised to win its seventh straight AL East title.

Still, the team had a major weakness in its pitching staff. They had allowed 500 runs through July 30, the second worst mark among teams above .500. It was also 10 runs worse than the Red Sox, while the Sox had outscored the Yankees by 10 runs to that point. That must have made the Yankees feel a little less secure in their position. In fact, it led them to seriously discuss a Randy Johnson trade with the Diamondbacks.

By July 28, however, it was apparent that Johnson would remain in Arizona. But that wouldn’t stop Brian Cashman from attempting to improve the team’s pitching staff. As he commented around the time the Johnson talks fell apart, “Right now, I’m exchanging ideas with other G.M.’s [sic] and trying to improve our club.” When that quote appeared in The New York Times, few of us could have guessed the mystery pitcher. A day after publication, a minute before the 4 p.m. trade deadline, we found out, though the more surprising aspect was the player the Yankees traded away.


Photo credit: Paul Sancya/AP

The Yankees signed Jose Contreras to a four-year, $32 million deal in the winter of 2002, which led to the now infamous Evil Empire declaration from Larry Lucchino. Because the rotation was so crowded, Contreras started the 2003 season in the bullpen, though he didn’t get much work early in the season. In just eight relief appearances he allowed 11 runs, six in three appearances against the Jays and five in one appearance against the Red Sox. He transitioned to the rotation at the end of May, and in his first two starts he allowed two runs over 14 innings, striking out 12. But he strained his subscapularis, causing him to miss over two months. Upon his return he pitched well in all but one start. Of course, that one came against Boston.

In 2004, however, Contreras could not put it together, which hurt particularly because the Yankees were relying on him. They had lost Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, and David Wells over the off-season and needed Contreras to hold down a spot atop the rotation. After a two-out start against Baltimore on June 2, Contreras held a 7.11 ERA, having pitched just 31.2 innings over eight starts. He recovered a bit after that, bringing his ERA down to 4.84 after a July 20 start against the Devil Rays, but then surrendered 15 runs over 12 innings in his next two starts against Boston and Baltimore. With their rotation reeling — even Tanyon Sturtze had gotten a start by that point — the Yankees needed an upgrade.

Brian Cashman and White Sox GM Ken Williams got a bit creative in their deadline deal. Instead of swapping prospects for veterans, as we often see, they decided to swap underperforming vet for underperforming vet. The White Sox received Contreras, plus $4 million, while the Yankees received 2003 Cy Young runner-up Esteban Loaiza. Even though his 2004 season more resembled his spotty past than it did his stellar 2003, he was still out-pitching Contreras. Plus, he would hit free agency after the season, which left the Yankees some flexibility.

The deal could not have backfired worse. Loaiza jumped right into the rotation, much to the joy of opposing hitters. He allowed 22 runs, 20 earned, over 24.2 innings in his first five starts, striking out 16 to 13 walks and 6 home runs. In other words, he had the FIP, 6.71, to go with the ERA, 7.30. After surrendering four runs in 4.1 innings to the Jays on August 27 the Yanks removed him from the rotation, though his bullpen stint went just as poorly. He made just one more start that year, but he probably wouldn’t have gotten even that had Kevin Brown not broken his hand punching a wall.

Loaiza’s only saving grace that year was the playoffs, in which he allowed just one run over 8.1 IP. Then again, that was a pretty important, the game-winner against Boston in Game 5 of the ALCS. The Yankees let him walk after that season, meaning all they got out of the deal was two months of horrible pitching, followed by a decent playoff run marred by one enormous run.

Contreras had his troubles in Chicago, keeping his ERA pretty consistent up until his last start, an eight-inning, zero run performance against Kansas City. The next year, however, is when the Yankees regretted the deal. As they ran through a series of scrubs because of various injuries to their pitching staff, Contreras pitched very well for the White Sox, racking up 204.2 innings with a 3.61 ERA (3.89 FIP). His ERA did rise to 4.27 in 2006, the final year of the contract he signed with the Yankees, though his FIP was right around his 2005 mark, 4.00. Though the Yanks’ staff was a bit better that year, they certainly could have used a performance like that in the middle of the rotation.

While the need to improve the pitching staff in 2004 was evident, the Yankees did not win in this trade. The pitcher they acquired was actually worse than the one they traded away. The move did save the Yankees about $15 million in future salaries, but considering the state of their pitching staffs in 2005 and 2006, I’m sure they gladly would have paid that money to Contreras. We can decidedly stick this one in the loss column.

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Categories : Days of Yore
  • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

    The entire Jose Contreras experience was indicative of the Yanks’ mid-2000s approach to pitching. Buy high and sell too low and too soon. See, for example, Javier Vazquez.

    • Tom Zig

      And continuing with the Javy part, the Yankees then went and bought real high on Randy Johnson. Although in fairness he was coming off an absolutely ridiculous season and in which he was robbed of a cy-young. Then the Yankees proceeded to sell low on him too.

      • steve (different one)

        disagree that the Yankees “sold low” on RJ.

        he did almost nothing the season after they traded him, and they saved about $14M. they also used the pieces they acquired from that trade to help get Marte, Swisher (via Washington), and Bleich (via Comp pick for Vizcaino).

        in fact, the Yankees got more from Vizcaino alone than RJ gave the D-Backs in 2007. plus they saved a ton of cash.

        no regrets on that one.

    • http://www.theyankeeu.com/ Nostra-Artist

      Yep, and indicative of how George was in charge and running the team. Shipping out Vasquez for an aging vet that George always loved was pure 1970s-80s Steinbrenner.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      See also:
      The Lilly-to-Weaver-to-Brown and Vazquez-to-Johnson-to-Ohlendorf freight trains of impatience and overreaction.

    • Rose

      Which was weird because it seemed to start out pretty good when we opted for Mike Mussina over Manny Ramirez. Went with pitching…bought high on him but in his prime (unlike K. Brown/R. Johnson).

      As opposed to today when we just get both of them plus another…(see: Sabathia, Burnett, and Teixeira).

      I think we learned our lesson. I believe Carl Pavano and Jared Wright were the straws that broke the camels back…some people might say Sir Sidney Ponson, but you’d be wrong. You’d be very wrong.

      If you met two people named Flippy and Hambone, who would you say liked dolphins the most? I’d say Flippy, wouldn’t you? You’d be wrong though. It’s Hambone.

      • steve (different one)

        awesome Jack Handy reference

  • YankeesJunkie

    I remember Jose Contreas very little as I only really started following the Yankees in 2004. However, what I remember was not very good. The Yankees always were tinkering with his mecanics especially whether or not to go over the top. My most memorable moment with Jose is when he gave up five runs to the Orioles in 2/3 IP and the Yankees came back to win the game off a strong performance of Tanyon Sturtze. Needless to say 2004 did not end well for any Yankees fans.

  • Tseng

    Uh, is it just me or is the formatting on the RAB page kinda messed up?

    • Tseng

      Hm, posted that comment and the page cleaned itself up. Great way to encourage posting! Just kiddin.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

        E-mail Ben, Joe or Mike if you have an issue like that. This particular forum should be Contreras-related.

        You could also post things like that in the off-topic thread.

        • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

          This. If the formatting’s messed up, we need to know ASAP, but use the contact-us form instead. Include your operating system and browser.

          • Rose

            How often do you guys check the off-topic forum? Because due to government contracts and such, we are unable to use personal email (viruses, spam, etc.) So I wouldn’t be able to contact anyone. Just curious how often you check over there if something like this was posted in that forum.

            • http://www.secondavenuesagas.com Benjamin Kabak

              Regularly. That’s a fine way to get in touch with us too. The “contact us” box should work even if you can’t get to email as well.

  • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

    Ick, I just don’t like to ever think of the Yankees rotation in the mid-00s. Except for Moose. I love my Moosey.

    • YankeesJunkie

      Moose was a great pitcher and it was sad that he did not win a ring.

      • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

        He was great, but he was nowhere near great shakes in 2004, 2005 or 2007. I love Moose and all, but I think we look more fondly on him than we should. He was very inconsistent in New York.

        • http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w_id=436793&w=2005/open/topplays/archive07/071405_nyabos_arod_hr_350.wmv&pid=mlb_tp&gid=2005/07/14/nyamlb-bosmlb-1&cid=mlb&am bexarama

          I think it’s because he pretty much personified “almost”

          /not an original comment’d

          • YankeesJunkie

            When I think of Moose, I will think of 2008 where he was one the best “pitchers” in the league. The way he carved up some teams was unbelievable.

        • Bo

          How was he inconsistent?

          He defined consistency.

          Win totals in ny: 17,18,17, 12,13,15,11,20

          A lot dont appreciate Moose for what he was because he didn’t “dominate”. Maybe Cashman should have got him some help in the rotation after ’03

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

            He defined consistency.
            Win totals in ny: 17,18,17, 12,13,15,11,20

            Sincerely,
            Boe Morgan
            Hall of Fame Second Baseman and ESPN Analyst

            • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

              and if you look at that “consistency” the 12, 13, and 11 wins come in his 3 worst years era+ wise.

              and his 4 best (1st, 3rd, 6th, and last) were his 17, 17, 15, and 20.

          • Templeton “Brendog” Peck

            wins. mean. very. little.

            era+ in 04, 05, 07

            98, 96, 88

            all below average years. and his 02 of 109 was barely above average.

            he had 4 very good years, a couple poor years and an average year or 2.

            in.con.sis.tent.

        • steve (different one)

          he was also pitching infront of a TERRIBLE defense in 2004-2005

      • Rose

        “The Curse of Mike Mussina” is almost as strong as “The Curse of Don Mattingly”

        Yankees won the year before Mike Mussina was signed and immediately after.

        The same wasn’t ENTIRELY true for Don Mattingly…BUT it was close…while it was a much longer period of time…and it included him as a hitting coach, bench coach, etc. for years as well.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

          Actually, “The Curse of Mike Mussina” is EXACTLY as strong as “The Curse of Don Mattingly”.

          Strength of both curses: 0, since curses don’t exist and aren’t real

          • Rose

            ICWUDT

            (for the record, I don’t believe in curses, ghosts, etc. either…just think it’s funny to talk about)

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

              Ah, okay. Gotcha.

              :: farts ::

        • Michael

          Mattingly played on Yankee teams with weak pitching. That wasn’t a curse, it was bad scouting. Moose had a chance to pitch in the post season all but one year.

          Hardly comparable.

      • No way Jose

        That’s like Mattingly retiring before 1996. That one stings more.

  • http://mystiqueandaura.com/ JMK the Overshare’s Mystique and Aura

    I’m going to agree with Joe’s conclusion and piggyback off Kiersten’s point above—the rotation in the mid-00s was sad in many ways. While Contreras seemed to have worn out his welcome, even with his $15 mil. salary, he would have provided a good mid-rotation guy. Not sure it would have saved that show, but it would have been better than Pavano, Brown, Wright. But hey, it is what it is.

    We essentially got an NBA-style expiring contract for Contreras. It would have been nice to have gotten some prospects back instead of Loaiza, but hey whatevs. Could have possibly gotten Brendan McCarthy or maybe Gio Gonzalez.

  • http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w_id=436793&w=2005/open/topplays/archive07/071405_nyabos_arod_hr_350.wmv&pid=mlb_tp&gid=2005/07/14/nyamlb-bosmlb-1&cid=mlb&am bexarama

    The 2004 pitching staff was hilarious, in a bad way. I do not understand how we won the division and were three outs away from a World Series appearance. At least 2005 had, gulp, Randy, and 2006 had Wang and Mussina.

    • JGS

      Maybe it makes what happened easier to think about, but I’ve always thought that the Yankees going up 3-0 in the first place was more surprising than them losing four straight

      • http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/media/player/mp_tpl_3_1.jsp?w_id=436793&w=2005/open/topplays/archive07/071405_nyabos_arod_hr_350.wmv&pid=mlb_tp&gid=2005/07/14/nyamlb-bosmlb-1&cid=mlb&am bexarama

        I totally agree. At the time I didn’t because I still thought HR, RBI, and BA were awesome stats, but it’s pretty obvious now. In 2003 the teams were at least pretty even. 2004 Sox were way better.

  • Andy

    “They had lose Roger Clemens, etc”

    Should that be lost?

    /nitpick

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

      The one thing we’ve asked more than anything is that people email us corrections. Thank you.

  • MattG

    “The move did save the Yankees about $15 million in future salaries, but considering the state of their pitching staffs in 2005 and 2006, I’m sure they gladly would have paid that money to Contreras.”

    But this doesn’t consider how Joe Torre undermined Contreras’s confidence. Up until May, 2004, I saw no evil in Torre’s favoritism. That all began to change when he removed Contreras in an early May game in Fenway in the second or third inning while, if memory serves, the score was 7-3 Yanks.

    • Bo

      You earn favortism. Should he have been coddled? maybe but it is NY and Torre has shown he knows how to win in NY.

      • MattG

        “You earn favoritism.”

        Really? Should he have brought an apple to school?

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

        …but it is NY and Torre has shown he knows how to win in NY.

        Well said.

        Other things Joe Torre has “shown he knows” how to do: Lose in New York.

        • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

          That’s the thing about Joe Torre. He’s not afraid to show he can lose in every baseball town. You gotta admire that.

          • Big Juan

            He’s like a kid in the dugout.

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

              I’d say he’s more like an infant, since he can literally fall asleep at the drop of a hat and proceed to sleep through anything.

            • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering
  • No way Jose

    Can we just pretent that the last inning of Game 7 against AZ through-2008 didn’t happen? Maybe it was like Lost, and we entered a parallel universe. In 2009 we entered back into the Yankees Universe. Yeah, that’s what happened ;-)

    • Bo

      They only went to the playoffs every yr and gave you some really exciting baseball. just because they didnt win the big prize doesnt mean the decade was a total failure. They were a bounce away here and there from adding 2 more titles.

      • No way Jose

        It’s all about 2004. It Never should have happened.

  • Bo

    One thing Jose C proved he couldnt do was pitch in NY. For some reason he couldnt handle it and he had to be moved. He didnt have half the toughness of El Duque. Which is what they thought they were getting. Some guys dont succeed in NY. It happens.

    • No way Jose

      Everyone thought that he must have been tough, to come over from Cuba on a raft. Maybe he ws just a very good paddler.

    • MattG

      If you believe that, you believe Vazquez proved it, too.

      Neither proved anything. Contreras could’ve just as easily improved in NY as he did in Chicago (not an easy place to play either, I hear).

      • No way Jose

        Joe Torre put his pitchers in a revolving door, and spun it around until he found an arm he could destroy. Many guys didn’t have a chance to get it right. Torre should have been fired after the 2004 collapse.

        • MattG

          You and I agree. I meant Contreras could’ve improved in NY if not for Joe Torre. The “He couldn’t handle NY” thing is completely speculative.

        • Michael

          You think Torre should have been fired after 2004?

          Man, this is a tough town. What about making the post season with Shawn Chacon and Aaron Small in the rotation?

          Torre was the manager in 04, and while he gets the blame for the breakdown, Cashman gave him bumb after bumb for years, and he still took them back to the playoffs.

    • Big Juan

      I mean, I don’t think just proved he couldn’t pitch in New York. Where has he had any sustained success?

      He’s just not a very good pitcher. I don’t think it much matters where he’s pitching.

      • Michael

        What about 2005? I think Don Cooper gets a lot of the credit for Contreras proving that he was a major leaguer.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      One thing Jose C proved he couldnt do was pitch in NY. For some reason he couldnt handle it and he had to be moved.

      /SSS’d
      /boversimplified
      /http://tinyurl.com/6000yearsago
      /http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostrophe

  • http://twitter.com/riddering Riddering

    (Must…not…forget…Operation: Shutdown.

    /Shatner’d)

    Steinbrenner and co. were kings of judging by the SSS, weren’t they?

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a The Large Sample Size

      /Shatner’d

      I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes…