The past two seasons, the Phillies bullpen has received a critical boost from a former starting pitcher who re-invented himself in the bullpen. In 2008, it was Chad Durbin. Last year, it was Chan Ho Park.
This year, Jose Contreras will attempt to fill the void. The Phillies have agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the hard-throwing Cuban righthander, according to a league source, and are hoping he can fill the void created when they gave up on re-signing Park.
Terms are unknown at this point, and the deal is not expected to be announced until Contreras passes a physical.
General manager Ruben Amaro Jr. acknowledged yesterday that the Phillies had been in frequent contact with Contreras' agent, but downplayed the significance of the interactions. Conteras will most likely fill in as a reliever, a role he has not filled regularly since his rookie season with the Yankees.
The righthander could theoretically contend for the fifth spot in the team's rotation, but both veteran lefthander Jamie Moyer and young righthander Kyle Kendrick would have to falter for that to be considered a realistic option.
Contreras proved to be a pivotal boost to the Rockies' bullpen last season during their fight for a playoff spot. In 17 innings, he allowed three runs and struck out 17, starting two games, then five relief appearances at the end of September. He faced the Phillies twice in the NLDS, allowing one run and striking out three while walking two in two innings of work.
Before last season, Contreras had made just two relief appearances since his rookie season with the Yankees in 2003. His best year as a starter came in 2005, when he went 15-7 with a 3.61 ERA for the White Sox during their championship campaign. He struggled as a starter since then, but the Phillies are hopeful he can make a transition to the bullpen similar to the one made by Park last season.
Interesting enough, the Phillies' two bullpen additions this offseason are both former Cuban defectors, righthander Danys Baez being the other one.
Contreras defected in 2002 while pitching for the Cuban national team during the American Series in Mexico. He originally signed a four-year contract with the Yankees before being traded to the White Sox in 2004.
At 6-foot-4, 224 pounds, the 38-year-old complements a low-to-mid 90's fastball with a change-up and slider.
The Phillies now have six relievers under contract, with prospect Antonio Bastardo the frontrunner to fill the remaining void. With veteran lefty J.C. Romero expected to miss up to a month, and with closer Brad Lidge questionable for Opening Day, young lefty Sergio Escalona and righthander Scott Mathieson will also have a chance to contend for a roster spot in spring training.
Other options include lefthander Mike Zagurski. Righthander B.J. Rosenberg, who showed promise at Class A last season, will also be in spring training.