RIGHT HANDED PITCHER
|Born: December 6, 1971
Signed: International Free Agent, 2003 (Yankees)
How Acquired: Minor League Free Agent
Agent: Jaime Torres
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Contreras was one of the most highly publicized Cuban signings in modern baseball history. He also served as a prime example of the difficulties faced by Cuban pitchers trying to transition to US pro ball. He was the ace pitcher of the Cuban international team during its heyday and was widely expected to dominate in the majors. He avoided the draft by establishing residency in Nicaragua, then signed a four-year deal with the Yankees that was worth $32M. In international play, he threw a mid-90s fastball, with a dominant slider and splitter, and an occasional change. He never threw that hard in the US, though, averaging 92-93 in his first several seasons, and continued to rely heavily on the slider and splitter. His velocity declined to about 90 in 2007-08, but increased with a move to the bullpen. He’s also gone much more often with the slider in relief. The Pirates signed Contreras to a minor league deal for 2013.
The 31-year-old Contreras opened the season in the Yankees’ bullpen, but struggled, allowing 11 hits and six walks in his first five innings. The Yankees optioned him to the minors in mid-April, then brought him back up a month later. He got bombed in his first game, but then pitched very well through two relief appearances and two starts before going on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. He returned in late August and pitched very well, mostly as a starter, through the end of the season.
Contreras struggled with the Yankees, with walks and HRs (22 with the Yankees, 31 on the season) being the main issues. The Yankees optioned him to AAA briefly, then, showing their usual lack of patience, sent him to the White Sox at the trade deadline for Esteban Loaiza. The deal eventually proved to be badly lopsided in the Sox’ favor, although Contreras continued to struggle through the end of 2004.
Contreras had his best major league season, making 32 starts, holding hitters to a .680 OPS, and going 3-1 in the post-season as the Sox won the World Series. His K rate started a decline that lasted three more years, but he cut his walk and HR rates significantly.
Contreras declined slightly, getting hit harder but continuing to cut his walk and HR rates. In April, the White Sox signed him to an ill-advised, three-year extension worth $29M.
Contreras’ stuff and performance both took a hit. He lost about two mph off his fastball, with similar velocity declines in his other pitches. His K rate cratered and opponents batted .304 against him.
Contreras bounced back partially in an injury-plagued season, cutting over 30 points off his opponents’ batting average. He was able to make only 20 starts, though. Elbow tendinitis put him on the disabled list in mid-July. He returned for one start in August, then went out for the year with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
After Contreras posted an ERA of 8.19 through six starts, the White Sox optioned him to AAA for a month. Upon returning, he pitched brilliantly in his first two starts, but not so much afterward. The Sox traded him to the Rockies in a waiver deal at the end of August. He started twice and made five relief appearances as Colorado reached the playoffs. Despite the low ERA, he wasn’t very effective.
The Phillies signed Contreras for 2010 as a reliever and he had a good year, making 67 appearances and seeing his fastball velocity jump up to 94 on average, while fanning over a batter an inning. It probably helped that the Phillies kept his outings short, averaging less than an inning each. The Phillies, having apparently learned nothing from the White Sox’ experience, signed Contreras to a two-year, $5.5M contract, with a club option for a third year, a few days after he became a free agent.
With Brad Lidge hurt, Contreras opened the season as the Phillies’ closer. He pitched well in the role, but went on the disabled list himself in late April with an elbow strain. He returned in late May, but went back on the DL, this time for the season, with a right forearm strain in mid-July. He eventually had elbow surgery to repair the flexor tendon in September.
Contreras opened the season on the disabled list, as he was still recovering from the surgery the previous September. He was activated three weeks into April and pitched well, despite the high ERA, through the end of May, covering 17 games. He injured his elbow in his last game, though, and required Tommy John surgery, ending his season. The Phillies declined his 2013 option, making him a free agent.
Contreras will still be rehabbing his elbow for at least part of spring training, so he may not be in a position to compete for a roster spot to open the season. The recurring elbow injuries make him a longshot for health reasons alone, but the fact is that Contreras has pitched well during the brief periods when he’s been able to pitch the last two years. For the most part, he was very tough on right-handed hitters during his time with the Phillies, probably due to the slider. It’s not inconceivable that he could help the Pirates in 2013 if he can get healthy. In any event, as with any minor league deal, there’s no downside to bringing him in.
UPDATE: Contreras spent much of April rehabbing in the minors and pitched well, but only got eight innings of work. The Pirates called him up at the beginning of May when faced with a deadline that would have required them to pay a retention bonus had they not called him up. He clearly wasn’t ready to face major league hitters and struggled badly with his command. The Pirates released him in mid-June, but signed him to another minor league deal just four days later. This time they’ll have the ability to make sure he’s ready before calling him up.
2013: Minor league contract
|Signing Bonus: $6,000,000
MiLB Debut: 2003
MLB Debut: 3/31/2003
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2013
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 2/26/03
Options Remaining: 0
MLB Service Time: 9.134
|February 26, 2003: Signed as an international free agent by the New York Yankees.
July 31, 2004: Traded by the New York Yankees to the Chicago White Sox for Esteban Loaiza.
August 31, 2009: Traded by the Chicago White Sox to the Colorado Rockies for Brandon Hynick.
November 9, 2009: Became a free agent.
January 22, 2010: Signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
November 10, 2010: Became a free agent.
November 15, 2010: Signed as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies.
November 3, 2012: Became a free agent.
February 23, 2013: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
May 3, 2013: Called up by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
June 13, 2013: Released by the Pittsburgh Pirates.
June 17, 2013: Signed as a minor league free agent by the Pittsburgh Pirates.