Yankees: Revisiting the Shawn Chacon Trade That Changed 2005 Season
By Adam Weinrib
The New York Yankees trade market looked rough in 2005, but Shawn Chacon ended up being far more than they expected.
When the Yankees trade for a pitcher, they’re not expecting a stopgap. They’re anticipating uncovering greatness.
That’s why, despite the grumbles from the fanbase at large on July 28, 2005, the team wasn’t worried — they had faith that their acquisition of the tantalizingly talented Shawn Chacon, added to the roster at his absolute low point, would help stabilize the rotation. Odds are they didn’t understand exactly how much, though.
Buoyed by Chacon and the unheard-of Aaron Small, the 2005 Yankees won 95 games after sitting at 30-32 on June 12, still stuck in the doldrums of their defeat at the end of ’04. There’s no hyperbole here. The diminutive Rockie may have saved the team’s decade.
Chacon came to New York at the July deadline, and in exchange, the Yankees surrendered pitching prospects Eduardo Sierra and…Ramon Ramirez, who, before too long, would become a cornerstone of the Boston Red Sox bullpen in the early ’10s. Sierra never made the majors, and floundered in the higher levels of Colorado’s system before bouncing to the Chicago White Sox farm midway through 2006.
At the time, the 27-year-old Chacon was joining a rotation that featured 41-year-old Randy Johnson having his finest season in New York (17-9, 3.79 ERA), a 36-year-old version of Mike Mussina (who would ultimately finish with a 4.41 ERA), and a 25-year-old rookie named Chien-Ming Wang. Holding steady prior to Chacon and Small’s arrival were, purportedly, Carl Pavano, Jaret Wright, and Kevin Brown, all of whom were demonstrably terrible. Late in the summer, Al Leiter picked up a few starts as well in his final big league season.
Chacon’s 2004 campaign firmly threw MLB evaluators off the scent of his talent, considering he was a 2003 All-Star in Colorado, which is never easy to do. Converted to closer in a pure swing of desperation, he went 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA in ’04, though he still accrued 35 saves, proving once and for all that counting numbers can be quite nonsensical in this beautiful game.
After arriving in 2005, though, Chacon’s insertion into the rotation paid immediate dividends. On July 30, he made his Yankee debut with six innings of four-hit baseball, surrendering only an unearned run in an eventual 8-7 win over the Angels. For the next two months, the Colorado castoff would be stunningly consistent — he only allowed more than two earned runs three times, and his numbers were nearly spotless, except for an eight-run blowup in Seattle. All told, the most confusing of Yankee heroes (or second-most, at least, behind Small) went 7-3 with a 2.85 ERA in the game’s biggest pressure-cooker, and carried that momentum into the playoffs. Two surprising starters buoying a Yanks run to the postseason? Not unheard of these days, either.
Chacon made the only postseason start of his MLB career in Game 4 of the ALDS against the Angels and — what do you know? — he nearly replicated his Yankees debut, helping to save the series and pivot it back to Anaheim. Unfortunately, the footage of Game 5 has been lost forever, per my request, but Chacon’s 6.1 innings of two-run ball helped prolong the team’s October life.
In 2006, unfortunately, the magic was gone, and Chacon was again dealt for an ultimate “That Guy!” in Craig Wilson of the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hit .212 in a 40-game sample in New York, which would prove to be his penultimate big league season. Luckily (VERY luckily), we’ll always have ’05, and possibly the weirdest singular Yankee season of that era.