By Kevin Baxter
October 9, 2002
Photo: Patty Ortin
Standout pitcher José Ariel Contreras, who defected from the Cuban national team in Mexico last week, surfaced in South Florida on Tuesday and is being represented by agent Jaime Torrez of Boca Raton.
Contreras, along with Cuban coach Miguel Valdes and Valdes' 19-year-old son, crossed the Mexican border near Tijuana short after defecting and were apprehended by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which later released them to Torrez.
Contreras said Tuesday night his decision to defect was “a personal decision” he made alone. He said he never discussed his plans with Cuban coach Miguel Valdes, who he called “my boss.” Both men said they were surprised when they ran into one another in the Monterrey, Mexico airport.
Neither Contreras nor his agent said Tuesday whether the pitcher will seek residency status in this country or abroad, a decision that could mean millions of dollars in signing bonuses with whatever major league organization he signs with.
If Contreras establishes residency in the U.S., he will have to apply for baseball's amateur draft and can negotiate a contract only with the team that selects him. If he establishes residency in another country, as many Cuban defectors have done previously, he becomes a free agent under baseball rules and can sell his services to the highest bidder.
Kevin Baxter covers baseball for the Miami Herald.