Plenty of rumors abound that tonight’s start at Safeco was something of an audition for Jose Contreras in front of a team interested in potentially acquiring his services for the stretch run. If you think White Sox GM Kenny Williams was in Seattle tonight because of the coffee, well, he wasn’t. The Dodgers are also in the mix (and had a scout at the game), but the M’s have been linked to Contreras most heavily in the last week or so.
So, how did it go? If you’re someone who likes to judge by results, it was a mixed bag. He gave up 5 runs in 7 innings and got his 15th loss of the year, and his ERA now sits at 6.18. Not great. But, if you’ve read the blog for any length of time, you know that one of my soap boxes is using tools that aren’t results based to project future performance. And really, that’s what the Mariners care about – what is Contreras likely to do going forward if they acquire him. So, throw the results out the window. What did the process look like?
First off, let’s start with his stuff.
The fastball sat between 92-95 MPH, coming in with sink and varied arm angles. He didn’t have great command of it, leaving it up in the zone and catching too much of the plate, but he was around the zone with moving, above average fastballs. Ron Kulpa’s generous strike zone and the Mariners aggressive approach helped his strike percentage, but make no mistake, he was throwing strikes with the fastball.
His outpitch is still a splitter that is good and occassionally great. Sitting 80-82 with a lot of drop, it’s a true out pitch, especially against aggressive hitters. He commanded it well, usually burying it in the dirt and only leaving a couple up in hittable areas. His splitter is a real weapon, a swing-and-a-miss pitch that can be used to put away hitters when ahead in the count.
He also showed a couple of slurvy breaking balls. The slider, which he threw a couple of times in the 85-87 range, was better than the slower curve, which flashed 77, but neither were anything great. They’re both show pitches to keep hitters off balance, and are minimal parts of the arsenal.
Overall, that’s an above average package of stuff for a starting pitcher. Velocity, movement, an out pitch, at least passable third and fourth offerings, and okay command? That sounds like a league average starter at worst. The stuff is certainly still there.
What about the peripherals from the game – the results that might actually matter, if you’re into that kind of thing. In 7 innings, he threw 97 pitches, 70 of which were strikes, posted a 9-7 groundball flyball rate, didn’t walk anyone, and struck out five. That kind of line is good for a 3.63 FIP and a 3.20 xFIP, which are basically ERA scaled to eliminate things beyond his control. In other words, Contreras pitched like a guy who should have given up a 2 runs in 7 innings, not 5 runs in 7 innings.
If you watched the game, that should jive with what you saw. Guillen’s first inning double was an off balance swing at a pitch he was fooled on and barely hooked fair down the left field line. Guillen also later had a single that barely got by Uribe. Betancourt had a double that was a lunging swing similar to Guillen’s first inning double and wasn’t well struck. Ichiro’s bunt single was really a throwing error, and Beltre’s infield single was just the luck of a high chopper. The only hits that were ripped were the Ibanez homer, the Sexson double, and the Beltre double, and they all came in the first inning.
Tonight, Jose Contreras threw the ball like a guy who could start for almost any team in baseball. Considering the Mariners glaring need for a starter, if this was really an audition, I think they have to have liked what they saw.
The remaining contract, 2 years and $20 million, isn’t something you want to take on if you don’t have to. But, as I mentioned in the game thread, it’s not so far out of line with what healthy pitchers are getting on the free agent market that it becomes an immovable albatross. Whether it’s intelligent or not, major league GMs currently overvalue past success and health when it comes to veteran pitchers, and Contreras has both. Remember, if last offseason showed us anything, it’s that your most recent year performance isn’t particularly important in terms of dollars received, as Jeff Weaver, Randy Wolf, Adam Eaton, and Jason Marquis all cashed in despite miserable 2006 campaigns. $10 million for each of the next two years for Jose Contreras just isn’t a significant liability, given the current way teams view the value of guys like him.
Honestly, if I could acquire Contreras tomorrow without giving up any real talent in return, I’d make the move regardless of how much salary the White Sox were willing to eat. If they offer to pick up some of the money, that’s just a bonus. I saw enough tonight to confirm what I already felt that his performance record was telling us – he’s not done, and he’s not even really close to being done. He’s still a useful major league starting pitcher, and on a team that is running out Horacio Ramirez and counting on Jeff Weaver and Jarrod Washburn, he fills a big hole.
I’m officially on board with a trade for Jose Contreras.