The case against Contreras
In which I disagree with Dave’s argument that the M’s should take him even if they munch the whole salary.
The argument for Contreras is, is I may, essentially this: he’s moderately better than HoRam, the team needs him, and his contract is not that outrageous.
The first point, that Contreras would be better, is pretty much inarguable.
And I’d further argue that I entirely agree that at this point in the season, whatever helps them get into the playoffs is justified. The additional cost of his salary this year is negligible, and those remaining starts he picks up from HoRam could well be the difference.
My issue is essentially this — he’s in his mid-30s, and will be 36 and 37 in the next two years of his deal. His long-term outlook even before this year wasn’t that great: PECOTA’s five-year valuation, for instance, ran
And that was based on him holding up a little better this season no less.
I’ll engage, in a way, in a logical fallacy here and appeal to authority, on several fronts:
– The White Sox chose to put him in the bullpen while Danks has been horrible for stretches this year
– In a year where several teams were hunting for pitching help (where Matt Morris moved!) no one took Contreras
– Contreras, as much as Dave’s now convinced that his contract would be easily movable at the end of the year, cleared waivers. No other major league team wanted to risk having the Sox give them Contreras with that contract. Not the dumb ones, but not even the smart ones. Not the ones with great pitching scouts who saw the same things we have.
I’ll also make the appeal to anti-authority. The M’s have shown repeatedly just this season (Davis, Parrish) that they aren’t any good at evaluating pitchers. If they trade for Contreras, we’re all hoping that for once, their crazed, ineffectual methods agree with Dave’s endorsement. That’s unsettling.
Moreover, I wonder how easy it really would be to move that deal at the end of the year. This seems a lot like the old fantasy lie (“I’ll throw in player x even though you don’t need him, and you can move him yourself- you’ll get a draft pick at least, right?”). If Contreras is good for the rest of the year, he becomes easy to move – but if that’s the case, how likely is it that he’s moved? Then the team’s paying $10m for a season with a 36-year old pitcher with declining stuff, and trying to move him for… for what? And if he sucks, the M’s end up eating a lot more salary if they want to move him.
For all the insanity over starters, who (besides the Mariners) would hand Contreras a two-year, $10m/year deal after this year?
On the other hand – and I don’t mean to argue for it here — given their recent track record, it’s likely if the M’s had $10m to spend, they’d only find some 36-year old starter to sign to a four-year deal. We might be better limiting the damage to two years.
And, again, you have to weigh that risk against the chance they miss the playoffs, 5th-starter upgrade or not. As much as it might be a huge PR boost for the team, the M’s are still neck-and-neck with two teams (Yankees and the gestalt Indians/Tigers) for the wild card and would have to catch the Angels for the AL West title. If they gamble and miss the playoffs, they’d have picked up that weighty contract on the chance that (again) this guy who cleared waivers, who no one else was willing to take on at that cost, is movable. And then the question becomes “how much salary do we have to eat to get him out of here?”
I don’t care about all of this: the M’s have tons of money to burn, and none of the salary stuff makes any difference in the team’s pursuit of a pennant this year, or the team on the field. But that’s the tradeoff we’re looking at: it’s a large gamble that Contreras gets the team to the promised land over the Yankees/Indians-Tigers, and they don’t have to eat too much money, against something we don’t know. I, as Geoff Baker’s argued on his blog, think the M’s have to have some backup plan: they’re going to throw some other pitcher into the rotation, use relievers L/R/L on one-inning stints, something. The trade is “Trade for Contreras and wager huge money” versus “M’s unknown option with unknown chance of working out”.
Baek’s not healthy and there don’t seem to be any other suitable internal options, but I don’t know that I’d give up on the unknown option that early: the M’s have had good success going to their player development guys and saying “who can we pluck out of the minors and bring up now?” I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Fontaine & Co. have a list of guys they think will be an upgrade over HoRam, and who wouldn’t expose the team to nearly as much risk. And at this point, given the track record of pitchers like O’Flaherty to stock the bullpen over the Davis/Parrish pickups, that option doesn’t seem so bad.