By Kevin Baxter
December 19, 2002
Photo: Patty Ortin
MIAMI–Cuban defector Jose Contreras has been declared a free agent by Major League Baseball after establishing residency in Nicaragua, opening the way to a fierce bidding war expected to involve more than a half-dozen teams.
“What do we do now? We field calls from a number of different teams,” said Jaime Torres, Contreras’ Miami-based agent. “I expect I’ll hear from a lot of them.”
The Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Braves, Marlins, Mariners and Brewers have all expressed interest in Contreras, who is projected as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter in the majors. Torres’ asking price is expected to exceed the $14.5 million over four years the Cleveland Indians gave Danys Baez in 1999, the record for a Cuban defector.
Contreras, 31, who defected in Mexico in October, was 117-50 in seven-plus seasons of Cuban league play. His first application for free agent status, based on Mexican residency, was rejected by MLB during the Winter Meetings in Nashville.
Since early December he has been working as a pitching coach in Nicaragua. Though MLB accepts his residency there as valid, FENIBA–the governing body for baseball in Nicaragua–does not. Contreras has been forbidden from pitching in his adopted homeland because Nicaraguan league rules prohibit the use of foreign players.
Kevin Baxter covers baseball for the Miami Herald.