Savvy Amaro Signs Contreras

And now for something completely out of left field… the Phillies reportedly have signed Jose Contreras. The 38-year-old right-hander is expected to pitch out of the bullpen and provide depth in the starting rotation in the event of poor performance or injury.

Contreras himself has had to deal with some health problems. He made 19 starts in 2008 but landed on the disabled list after a July 13 start that irritated his right elbow. He then ruptured his left Achilles tendon in his first start back off the D.L. on August 9. Last season, he missed a month between May 8 and June 8 when his right leg wasn’t right. But wait, there’s more! Contreras would miss two more weeks in September when he strained his right quadriceps.

Yeah, it’s not exactly a no-risk signing by the Phillies, but Contreras will likely earn much less than the $10 million he received last season between the Chicago White Sox and Colorado Rockies.

Despite his age and a bill of health that requires some serious finger-crossing, Contreras proved as recently as last season’s NLDS that he still has above-average stuff to compete against Major League hitters. During Games 2 and 3, his fastball consistently sat in the mid-90’s, reaching as high as 96 MPH. Contreras struck out seven batters in just over seven innings of work at the end of the regular season with the Rockies as well.

Over the past three seasons, Contreras has been worth 2.1-2.6 WAR with almost all of his innings coming as a starter. For the Phillies, a more reasonable expectation is at about 1.0 WAR since his innings total will likely end up half of what it has been.

His ERA of late may worry you, but ERA predictors are a bit kinder to him:

In each of the past four seasons, FIP has estimated Contreras’ ERA to be better than what it turned out to be. The biggest gaps come in ’07 and ’09 and it’s no coincidence that in those years he had a .334 and .325 BABIP respectively. As we know, pitchers can’t control their BABIP so we can credit most of that to a poor distribution of batted balls and poor play by his fielders.

Contreras, who induces ground balls about 45-50% of the time a ball is put in play, should fare better in Philadelphia given that he will have one of baseball’s best infield defenses behind him. Also inspiring confidence is his strikeout rate which at 7.25 per nine innings last season was his highest since 2004. However, that did come with a corresponding rise in his walk rate which at 3.62 per nine innings was his highest since ’03.

Overall, it’s a savvy signing by GM Ruben Amaro. Contreras has the potential to be a valuable member of the Phillies’ bullpen or provide a high level of production as a #5 starter in the event that Jamie Moyer cannot regain full health and/or Kyle Kendrick cannot capture his magic from 2007. This is the type of signing that winning organizations make. And to think it was only four years ago that the Phillies relied on Aaron Fultz and Adam Bernero to make starts.

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15 comments

  1. Rich

    January 23, 2010 08:29 AM

    I like your optimism, but somehow I think we’re going to be not liking this guy by May or so.

    Let’s be optimistic though…

    The other concern I have is with Baez, both of these guys weren’t really sought after. Are they diamonds in the rough, or will they turn out to be fool’s gold?

  2. hk

    January 23, 2010 09:39 AM

    Bill, I agree. In fact, I think that this might turn out to be Ruben’s best (or at least most valuable) off-season signing depending on how much they’re paying Contreras. Even at age 37, he struck out 7.25 per 9 IP and was throwing 95 MPH fastballs in October. If healthy, he should give them 100 IP with a ~4.20 ERA as a hybrid starter/reliever. Unless they’re significantly overpaying Contreras, they should end up with three years of Baez and Contreras combined for about half of what Houston is paying for 3 years of Brandon Lyon.

  3. Bill Baer

    January 23, 2010 09:44 AM

    Unless they’re significantly overpaying Contreras, they should end up with three years of Baez and Contreras combined for about half of what Houston is paying for 3 years of Brandon Lyon.

    Well put, HK.

  4. Aaron H

    January 23, 2010 06:22 PM

    hk, looks like you were off on this one. They signed Contreras for $1 mil, so they’re getting three combined years of Contreras/Baez (6.25 mil) for LESS than half of what the Astros are paying Lyon (15 mil).

  5. hk

    January 23, 2010 08:06 PM

    Aaron H, I still haven’t seen that, but if so, kudos to Ruben. It amazes me how some GM’s consistently fail Econ 101 (supply and demand).

  6. Peter

    January 23, 2010 08:56 PM

    Like this deal for the Phils. When in doubt, bet on talent, and Contreras has plenty of that.

  7. e

    January 23, 2010 11:49 PM

    so instead of Lee, you have Blanton, Baez, and Contreas, and three 2nd tier prospects?

  8. hk

    January 24, 2010 09:55 AM

    e,

    Your comparison misses the mark on a number of levels.

    1. Baez and Contreras are irrelevant to the Lee vs. Blanton comparison as the Phillies still would have needed to sign a set-up man and a hybrid starter / reliever. If we assume that they are on a budget, they could have still signed Contreras, but with $2M less to spend, they would have had to sign a replacement level reliever for $625k instead of Baez for $2.625M.

    2. The real comparison is Lee + the 2 draft picks the Phillies would have received had he left after 2010 through free agency vs. Blanton + the three prospects + the money that the Phillies save. The money is the $2M difference in Lee’s and Blanton’s contracts + the signing bonuses the Phillies don’t have to pay the draft picks. The latter part is often overlooked in the equation, but it has to be considered because Seattle has already paid the signing bonuses (including $1.9M to Aumont) for the three players the Phillies acquired.

    3. While you consider Aumont, Rivera and Gillies to be 2nd tier prospects, at this time last year, Baseball America had Aumont and Rivera as the top two pitchers and Gillies as the fastest baserunner and best OF arm in the Seattle organization. I don’t subscribe to BA, so I’m not sure how they currently rank all three players.

    4. After having dealt Cardenas, Outman, Marson, Donald, Knapp, Carrasco, D’Arnaud, Taylor and Drabek in the last 18 months, the Phillies felt it was important to restock the farm system with players who are close to being ready to help in their window from 2010-2013. All three of the guys that they received currently project as major leaguers, so their thinking is understandable. While I disagree with their thinking, if they decided that they were not in a position to give up D’Arnaud, Taylor and Drabek without getting back some prospects – even lesser ones – the real way to look at the situation is that they traded 7 prospects for 3 prospects + Ben Francisco + 2 months of Cliff Lee + Roy Halladay.

  9. Bill Baer

    January 24, 2010 04:32 PM

    hk, love the detailed comment. Great point about the signing bonuses. I definitely would have looked past that.

  10. hk

    January 24, 2010 06:42 PM

    Bill,

    Thanks. Ruben deserves criticism for some of the moves he’s made, especially giving the extra year to Moyer, to Ibanez and to Polanco. It is even fair to criticize him for the Lee trade, but – and I’m looking at you Buster Olney – people should at least know all of the factors before commenting on it.

  11. e

    January 24, 2010 07:37 PM

    hk,

    The phillies could have DFA’ed Blanton, and picked a high risk/reward Bedard/Sheets/etc type. You go inhouse on relievers instead of two old pitchers, and you could extend Lee. Not even mention the horrible Ibanez/Polanco potential on those contracts, plus Moyer.

    the phillies aren’t a small market team. signing bonuses should mean nothing to them. the phillies could have went inhouse for relievers, for example like the A’s did with Bailey.

    I’d much rather take a first rounder and suppl first rounder instead of a 5th OF, a reliever, and an unknown in Ram.

    To me, Amaro is at be an average GM.

  12. hk

    January 24, 2010 08:04 PM

    e,

    I agree with you that Amaro has been average at best, but primarily because of the extra years on the Moyer, Ibanez and Polanco contracts. I also would have preferred that the Phillies keep Lee, but not necessarily at the expense of Blanton. I would have rather seen them have a rotation of Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Blanton and Happ in 2010 and, if the budget was really a concern, fill the 3B slot on the cheap (maybe a Dobbs and Crede platoon). That being said, I’m not sure where you get your info that Aumont is definitely going to be a reliever and that Gillies is a 5th OF. At this time last year, Aumont was a starter and the 3rd ranked Seattle prospect and the Mariners were getting raked over the coals for putting him in the pen. The Phillies must think he can be an effective starter. Also, everything I’ve read says that Gillies has great speed and a great arm and, if his power doesn’t develop, he’s a 4th OF at worst. If your assessment of the 3 prospects that they got from Seattle is correct, the Lee deal will turn out to be a horrible one. I was just pointing out that the Phillies also saved some cash (the $2M difference between Lee’s and Blanton’s salaries plus not having to spend to sign the prospects).

  13. hk

    January 24, 2010 08:51 PM

    e,

    A couple more points. Blanton has produced 2.2 or more WAR every year he’s been in the big leagues. He’s also as much of a guarantee to give you 200 IP as there is in the game these days. I’d much rather give Blanton $24M over three years than sign an injury risk like Sheets, who’s asking for $10M by the way, or Bedard, who can’t seem to find a taker.

    Also, on the prospects, you may not like the three that the Phillies got from Seattle, but Keith Law, who’s opinion on prospects I regard highly, said that the 3 the Phillies got from Seattle are better than the 4 they gave to Cleveland. Therefore, again, if you accept that the Phillies philosophy was that they were not going to totally deplete the farm system by trading 10 prospects combined in 18 months for Halladay, Lee and Blanton, you have to say that they did pretty well turning Marson, Donald, Knapp and Carrasco into Francisco + the 3 prospects that they got from Seattle + 3 months from Cliff Lee.

  14. e

    January 24, 2010 09:01 PM

    hk,

    I’m a sickels guy, not Law. he had those three 2,3,8 in the phillies organ. going into this coming season. Which doesn’t say much, bc the phils system isn’t very good. But they were at b-, b-, c+. I just think you would want more of a sure thing, per say, then what the phillies got. I believe Aumont pitched the whole year in the bullpen, too. Too injury prone for me, as a headliner for the trade. I just think a first rounder/Suppl, give you much more of a sure thing, then anything the phillies got.

    I agree with your assessment of Blanton. Very under the radar.

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