Wade v. Chacon

Preface: The origins of Astros County began with the following story. Though I didn't start the blog until November 2008, it was the following story that got me thinking about doing so. Seven years later, I'd like to thank Shawn Chacon for giving me a (mostly) daily writing outlet.

Shawn Chacon was the Rockies' 3rd Round pick in the 1996 draft and he chose the Rockies over Arizona State. He debuted for the Rockies on April 29, 2001, throwing 5.1IP, 9H/7ER, 8K:3BB against the Reds at Coors Field, but the Rockies won the game 14-7. From 2001-2003 Chacon threw 416.1IP with a 5.10 ERA/1.46 WHIP, including a 2003 campaign where he won 11 games before the All-Star break. In his first 16 games (10 of them at Coors Field) in 2003, Chacon threw 101.1IP, 92H/44ER, posting a 3.91 ERA - and this includes three games in May where Chacon allowed 25H/18ER in 16IP. He was Colorado's lone representative at the 2003 All-Star Game. But Chacon didn't pitch in the game, because of elbow trouble, and was subsequently shut down after an August 16 start where he allowed 5H/8ER, 0K:5BB in 1.1IP.

So the Rockies moved Chacon to the bullpen and in 2004 he put up one of the weirdest seasons you'll ever see, saving 35 games with a 7.11 ERA. And it wasn't a fluke, his 7.11 ERA was supported by a 6.57 FIP and a 6.31 xFIP. He saved 35 games and was still worth -1.2 WAR - the worst WAR with the most saves in baseball history.

At the 2005 Trade Deadline, the Rockies sent Chacon to the Yankees for two players, and he slotted into the Yankees rotation, where he went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA/1.22 WHIP. He was the Yankees' Game 4 starter in the 2005 ALDS against Anaheim, threw 6.1IP, 4H/2ER, 5K:1BB, getting a no decision in what would ultimately be a Yankees win, tying the series at 2-2, pushing it to a deciding Game 5 that the Angels won.

Chacon pitched poorly in 2006, posting a 7.00 ERA/1.79 WHIP in 17 appearances (11 starts), and the Yankees did what the Rockies did, shifting him to the bullpen, after a July 4 start where he game up 7ER in 1.1IP at Cleveland. After four bullpen appearances, the Yankees traded Chacon to the Pirates for Craig Wilson. He started for the Pirates in 2006 but was moved back to the bullpen in 2007. Despite a 3.94 ERA/1.49 WHIP for the Pirates, they chose not to re-sign Chacon for the 2008 season. Which is where the Astros come in.

The 2007 Astros were disappointing. Two years removed from their first World Series appearance, the Astros went into the season hoping to improve upon their 2006 season, in which they went 82-80 with Lance Berkman's 1.041 OPS, finishing 2nd in the NL Central and watching the Cardinals win the World Series over the Tigers. Following the 2006 season the Astros signed Carlos Lee and Woody Williams and called up Hunter Pence on April 28.

It didn't work. The 2007 Astros were 58-73 when Phil Garner was fired and replaced by Cecil Cooper, and Tim Purpura was fired on August 27. New GM Ed Wade was hired by Drayton in September, just a few days before the Astros finished the 2007 season 73-89, 4th in the NL Central, 12 games behind the division-winning Cubs.

So the offseason between 2007 and 2008 would be Ed Wade's first in which he would attempt to reshape the Astros. Among a flurry of other moves, Wade traded Eric Bruntlett and Brad Lidge to the (of course) Phillies for Michael Bourn and others. He signed Kaz Matsui on November 30 and picked Wesley Wright in the Rule 5 draft on December 6. Eight days later he traded Matt Albers, Mike Costanzo, Troy Patton, Dennis Sarfate, and Luke Scott to Baltimore for Miguel Tejada. One day after that, Tejada was named in the Mitchell Report. And on February 20, he signed Shawn Chacon to a 1yr/$2m deal based on the premise that Chacon would be in the rotation.

Chacon told MLB.com that he was excited about the certainty of his role. "I think there's been one season I've come in and had a guaranteed spot and that was a long time ago...My main thing was wanting to start and I'm getting that opportunity here. (Cecil Cooper) called me and explained the situation and said I had a pretty good opportunity to be in the mix for the last spot in the rotation. To me, that was better than what else was out there as far as starting.

Six of the eight 2008 Astros position players were at least 30 years old. Only Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn, both 25, were younger. The rotation was Roy Oswald, Brandon Backe, Wandy Rodriguez, Brian Moehler, and Chacon.

On May 16, Chacon set a Major League record for the most starts - nine - with a no-decision, though the Astros were 24-19, 2.5 games back in the division. But some cracks began to appear within the clubhouse the following day. On that May 17 game at Texas (which the Astros lost, 6-2), Roy Oswalt appeared to be limping, but still pitched through the 7th inning, walking off the mound after "straightening his right groin," Richard Justice wrote. The next day, Justice wrote that there was a miscommunication between Roy and Cooper. Cooper thought Oswalt said he could go for the 7th inning. Oswalt thought Cooper told him to pitch through it.

By the end of May, Chacon was 2-0 with a 3.95 ERA, coming off a May 27 start where he held the Cardinals to 7H/2ER, 7K:0BB in 7IP. The Astros were 30-23, 1.5 back. And then the wheels started to fall off, both for Chacon and the Astros. 

On June 1, Chacon faced nine batters, pitching 1IP, with 2H/4ER, 2K:2BB in a 10-1 loss at Milwaukee, and even that wasn't without incident, with Chacon turning his back on 1st-year pitching coach Dewey Robinson during a visit to the mound, an action for which he was fined. "He was totally disrespectful to my pitching coach, and when I went to try and calm him down he was disrespectful to me," Cecil Cooper said.

It was the Astros' 5th straight loss, and they fell from 1.5 back to 6.5 games back in that span. On June 5, 2008 the Astros drafted Jason Castro and Jordan Lyles with their first two picks of the 2008 draft.

At Minute Maid on June 7, Chacon allowed 10H/7ER, in an 8-4 loss to the Cardinals he had dominated just two weeks before. He responded with a 6.1IP, 3H/1ER outing against the Yankees in a 2-1 loss on June 13.

Meanwhile on June 8, Jose de Jesus Ortiz wrote that, since the Rangers had designated Sidney Ponson for assignment for being a "disruptive force", and that "a few Astros players asked me to strongly encourage the Astros to sign Ponson." The Houston Press noted that it was weird for those players to go to Ortiz and not to, say, Cooper or Wade. 

But on June 19 Chacon got the start at Baltimore. The 1st inning went well enough, he retired the side on eleven pitches. He needed 25 pitches to get out of the 2nd inning, but got out of it after allowing a hit and a walk. He allowed a hit and three walks - plating the first Orioles run - in the 3rd, then two runs in the 4th, and three runs on four hits in the 5th. His final line: 5IP, 8H/6ER, 0K:4BB. The Astros lost the game, 7-5, concluding a 3-17 stretch that saw them fall to 12 games back. It was Chacon's last outing in Major League Baseball.

Because then things got weird. Three days after the Baltimore start and before a Sunday game against Tampa Bay, Cecil Cooper told Chacon that he would be pitching out of the bullpen "for the immediate future." Predictably, Chacon was upset. "I think it's horse-s**t. That's pretty much how I feel about it. Sums it up."

Cooper wasn't surprised by his reaction: "I didn't expect him to be totally happy because he came here because he had a chance to start. I'm not concerned that he's unhappy because I think he'll do whatever he needs to get it done. I'm sure he's not going to swallow it, but he'll be upset for a while and then I'm sure he'll pack his bags and do what he's got to do - get out in the pen and be good."

Chacon replied, ominously: "I'll handle it like I'm going to handle it."

Wade would later say, "At no time did we give him any assurance that he would be inserted in the rotation for an entire season."

Soon after getting the news, Chacon told his agent to seek out a trade from the Astros, presumably to a team with an opening in their rotation. The Astros called up RHP Runelvys Hernandez, who had a 3.72 ERA in 15 starts with Triple-A Round Rock, to start in Chacon's spot against the Red Sox on the following Friday night.

On Tuesday, June 24, Robinson apparently asked Chacon to throw a bullpen session, which Chacon ignored and did not immediately complete. Then in the bottom of the 9th, with Valverde pitching to close out the win, Chacon did indeed throw the bullpen. Wade: "Based on this information, I was even more convinced that a meeting was necessary and I asked Coop to arrange it while I returned upstairs to retrieve something from my briefcase."

An hour before the Astros played the Rangers at Minute Maid Park on Wednesday, and riding their first winning streak (two games) in a month, Ed Wade walked in to the dining room after the Astros had finished batting practice and told Chacon to report to Cecil Cooper's office. According to Chacon, the situation went as such:
Chacon: What do want to speak to me about?
Wade: We just want to talk to you.
Chacon: Anything you can say, you can say to me right here. I don't want to go to the office.
Wade: (Blank stare)
Chacon: There's nothing for me to say to you guys.

Chacon explained, "I don't think whatever they had to say to me they were going to make me happy. I didn't want to get in a closed-room conversation."

So Chacon simply sat down to eat. Wade allegedly approached Chacon and "very sternly" said that he needed to come with him Cooper's office. "I said, 'For what?'" Chacon said, 'I don't want to go to the office with you and Cooper. You can tell me whatever you've got to tell me right here.'" Wade replied, "Oh, you want me to tell you right here?" To which Chacon said, "Yeah," but clarified that he wasn't the one yelling, he was calm.

Chacon said that Wade started yelling and cussing. "I'm sitting there," Chacon told the Chronicle, "and I said to him very calmly, 'Ed, you need to stop yelling at me.' Then I stood up and said, 'You better stop yelling at me.' He continued and was basically yelling and stuff and was like, 'You need to (expletive) look in the mirror.' So at that point I lost my cool, I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him, because at that point I wanted to beat his ass." And then, in what is perhaps the understatement of all understatements, "Words were exchanged." Reggie Abercrombie ultimately pulled Chacon off of Wade.

Chacon was immediately suspended without pay. "Insubordination to the club," is how Wade characterized it. "I'm not getting into details. It's an internal matter." Chacon was owed approximately $1m of the $2m contract he signed in February.

Wade told MLB.com's Jim Molony the following version of the events: "Following batting practice on Wednesday I was on my way to the home clubhouse when a member of the media stopped me to tell me that Chacon had informed him that he wanted to be traded to a team where he could start...Chacon also told the reporter that he would accept his unconditional release. I went on camera and with that reporter and restated our position that we had no interest in trading him."

But Wade clarified to ESPN.com, "I did not raise my voice to the player, curse the player," he said. "I did not make any defamatory remarks toward the player. Chacon responded with profane and threatening remarks and got up from his seat. He moved in front of me until we were chest to chest and then he shoved me to the ground. When I attempted to get to my feet, he shoved me a second time. At this point players and coached intervened."

Chacon wondered to the Chronicle if he would ever pitch in the Majors again. As far as Drayton McLane was concerned, if he did, it wouldn't be for the Astros, and he told the rest of the team that shortly before that Wednesday game against the Rangers, which they would lose, 3-2.

McLane said, "We can't have anarchy. You can't have rebellion. If he disagreed with what Cecil wanted him to do, he should have had the courage to sit down and talk to him. If you shoved a policeman down or any other public servant...can you imagine shoving a principal in school? It was in full view of several players. Players pulled Chacon and restrained him. There's absolutely no way."

Chacon did not speak to anyone representing the Astros directly, instead handling all communication through agent Dan Horwits. "Obviously I've not been pleased with the decision to move to the pen and made that clear the day they told me. After that I decided I wasn't going to say anything more and go about my business. After that my agent and I decided we were going to let them know I wanted to be traded. Through my agent I also told them the only reason I signed with Houston was because they were going to let me start the season all year."

Then Chacon grew introspective, but still laid blame at Ed Wade's feet. "Maybe it shouldn't have happened. But when you do things and you're yelling at somebody and you're cussing, you better know what type of person you're dealing with," Chacon said of Wade. "If there's any regret, I just wish they had just let me alone. I wish they had left me alone. I'm there for my teammates. I'm not there for (the front office). It just sucks that it had to end like that. Obviously I won't be able to play the rest of the year or whatever, but it's fine. I don't expect to...It's really just a matter of if I want to play anymore."

Horwits promised details: "As this process unfolds over the coming weeks there will be more facts that are revealed which will shed a little bit more light on the situation and the event that took place. In Shawn's case it's not to say that physical confrontation was appropriate, it certainly wasn't. Shawn understands that."

Wade reflected on Chacon's Astros "career," saying, "I hoped he would pitch better for us. The bottom line is we took him out of the rotation Sunday basically on merit." He also referred to Rule 7(b), paragraphs (1) and (3) of the Uniform Player Contract as the reasoning for terminating Chacon's contract. Paragraph 1 says a team can terminate a contract if that player should "Fail, refuse, or neglect to conform his personal conduct to the standards of good citizenship and good sportsmanship or to keep himself in first-class physical condition or to obey to the club's training rules," with Paragraph 3 saying that a violation of Paragraph 1 is a breach of contract, with the punishment of contract termination without pay.

Drayton had been in touch with Selig, who was in support of the Astros invoking the clause to do just that. I had a lengthy discussion with the Commissioner this afternoon," Drayton told MLB.com, "and he completely supports the position we've taken."

Wade did not intend to press criminal charges, but said, "If he clears waivers and at that point is not acquired by another club we will unconditionally release and terminate him without pay." The deadline to claim Chacon was the following Monday, June 30. "(Chacon's) pattern of disrespect and defiance to me," Wade said, "the manager, the pitching coach and most importantly the organization led us to this decision."

Reaction from around the league was swift. The day after "the incident" as it was then being called, Derek Jeter offered support for Chacon and a possible return to the Yankees, saying, "Chac's a friend of mine. I see Chac in the offseason. I wouldn't have a problem with him. I think people need to find out all the details. Yeah, it doesn't look good, doesn't sound good, but I don't know what happened. I can't picture it happening, knowing him like I know him."

Roy Oswalt said: "Hopefully he'll get a chance with somebody else. I don't know. You can't really judge one person on one thing." Rangers manager Ron Washington doubted that Chacon would get a second chance, something that Wesley Wright - one of Chacon's friends on the team - said everyone deserves: "This is America, you always get a second chance. Hopefully things will work out in his favor and our favor and after ties are cut with the Astros he can move on somewhere else and be successful."

Chacon wasn't the only one on the receiving end of criticism. The New York Daily News' Bill Madden said, "While there is no excuse for Chacon...the GM is not entirely an innocent victim here. By his own admission, Wade said he used curse words during the heated exchange that led up to Chacon's explosion" (which is a direct contradiction to what Wade had been saying publicly) "And if he didn't provoke the incident, he sure didn't demonstrate the restraint and dignity a GM is supposed to have."

Richard Justice turned his harsh glare to Wade, as well: "This wasn't Ed Wade's finest hour, either. To ask for a meeting is one thing. To resort to yelling and cursing reflects a lack of maturity on his part...Some who've known him through the years have thought he had a large streak of insecurity and a little man's complex. The Astros were perfectly justified to punish Chacon, but Drayton McLane would be equally justified in asking some hard questions about Wade's behavior.

Madden even turned Drayton's words around on to McLane himself: "Perhaps (McLane) needs to look in the mirror...for it was McLane who forced out Gerry Hunsicker...and McLane who penny-pinched the Astros out of signing three of their top six draft picks in 2007, only to turn around and authorize Wade to sign the much-traveled Chacon for $2 million."

Buster Olney reported from a source that Chacon's outburst was indicative of a larger issue within the clubhouse, and "unhappiness with decisions and with the tone of how the Astros are being run this year." One source told Olney, "It's like it finally bubbled to the surface."

Interestingly enough, this was true. Jose de Jesus Ortiz wrote that "ever since Roy Oswalt and Cecil Cooper had completely different versions of what Oswalt said or didn't say to Robinson before he was sent out to pitch another inning against the Texas Rangers in Arlington while feeling pain on May 17, several issues have cropped up in which the players either publicly or privately questioned Cooper and Robinson on several occasions...Chacon's issues with Cooper and Robinson escalated into an extreme exchange with Ed Wade, but there's no denying some other tension has existed."

"Is there a communication problem?" Oswalt said, "I won't say it's a communication problem. Sometimes we see different from them and they see it different from us. You still have to play no matter what...I think (it's) the first time they've done this job...Sometimes the game is starting to look a little easier from the sideline than it does on the field. Overall it's just trying to get used (to being) on the job and trying to get accustomed to it."

Oswalt also lamented to Ortiz the public and league-wide perception of the Astros: "It's not good, for sure. Not for the organization. We've always had a real classy organization. Some great players have come through here and set a great example. Hopefully this right here, this one incident, won't get judged too much."

Regardless, the Astros were going to try to void Chacon's contract, something most observers didn't think likely. After all, an NBA arbitrator ruled Golden State didn't have the right to terminate Latrell Sprewell's contract after he choked head coach P.J. Carlesimo ten years earlier. Bill Madden noted that one of Sprewell's defense witnesses was MLBPA counsel Gene Orza. (This Yahoo Sports blog contrasted the difference in national reaction from Sprewell to Chacon).

Three days after Runelvys Hernandez and the Astros lost that Friday game against the Red Sox, Monday, June 30 came and went with no team placing a claim on Chacon, so the Astros terminated Chacon's contract citing the aforementioned reasons. He lost $983,607 in salary and the MLBPA predictably appealed. MLBPA general counsel Michael Weiner said, "Based on the information we have to date, we believe the Astros' response violates the Basic Agreement...We will pursue appropriate relief on his behalf."

Wade said he was over Chacon. "I don't think it's appropriate for me to have anything more to say about the issue. We dealt with this and gave everybody ample opportunity to ask questions the other day about it. He's a free agent now. Whatever course is taken down the road is out of our hands. He's not our player anymore."

Meanwhile, the Astros were putting together a run. From July 18-September 11, 2008 the Astros went 36-16 to put themselves right in the thick of the Wild Card race assisted by a July 22 trade that sent Chad Reineke to San Diego in exchange for Randy Wolf, who went 6-2 for the Astros in 12 starts, with a 3.57 ERA/1.30 WHIP. On September 11, 2008 Roy Oswalt and the Astros beat the Pirates for their 6th straight win and 14th in their last 15 games. They were 80-67, with the 4th-best record in the National League and just three games behind the Wild Card spot. The next game they played was on September 14. You might remember this game as the "home game" in Milwaukee in which Cubs' pitcher Carlos Zambrano no-hit the Astros at Miller Park in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

(If you somehow haven't read enough about the guano crazy season that was 2008, be sure to check out 5,500 words on Hurricane Ike and the Astros here)

Chacon did not appear in a baseball game until May 2009, when the indy league Newark Bears signed him to a one-year deal. The 2009 Newark Bears featured former MLB players Carl Everett, Marlon Anderson, Charlton Jimerson, Jacque Jones, Tim Raines Jr, Pete Rose Jr, Daryle Ward, Armando Benitez, Keith Foulke, and Shawn Chacon....all managed by Tim Raines. Like, *the* Tim Raines. In seven starts, Chacon threw 42IP, allowing 41H/20ER, 29K:16BB, for a 4.29 ERA/1.36 WHIP. That was good enough for Oakland to sign Chacon to a minor-league contract in late June 2009.

In 14 appearances - 12 starts - for Oakland's Triple-A affiliate in Sacramento, Chacon threw 73IP, 77H/51ER, 53K:42BB - a 6.29 ERA/1.63 WHIP. And he never played professional baseball again. But his troubles weren't over yet.

At the beginning of October, authorities secured an arrest warrant for Chacon as a result of his failure to pay Caesar's Palace $150,000 in gambling debts, which are prosecuted in Nevada as passing bad checks. He was arrested at a bowling alley in his hometown of Greeley, Colorado on October 5 and booked in county jail.

It took over two years, but in August 2010 independent MLB arbitrator Shyam Das - whom you may remember as the arbitrator who overturned Ryan Braun's Biogenesis PED suspension based on Braun's sample collector not following protocol, who was then fired by MLB in 2012 - ruled that the Astros were within their rights to terminate Chacon's contract.

"We're pleased with the ruling," Wade said, "It was unfortunate incident, and we're glad to put it behind us."