By Barry Jeffrey Jr.:
It is early in the offseason, the General Managers meetings have begun today and Free Agency is in its infancy. That has not stopped the Phillies from making a few moves already. Today I am going to talk about the Phillies biggest move so far in this early dawn of baseball hibernation, the resigning of relief pitcher Jose Contreras. After coming over to the Phillies on a one year deal and providing outstanding performance, even closing out games when both Brad Lidge and ace set up man Ryan Madson were hampered by injuries the Phillies wasted little time in bringing back the Cuban righthander. By offering Contreras a two year 5.5 million dollar contract, some performance based incentives, and adding a third year as a club option the team was able to come to terms with the him.
Most of the Phillies faithful wanted the team to bring back the 6’4″ veteran to help stabilize a bullpen with some big openings in it for 2011. However some fans are scratching their heads over why the Phillies GM Ruben Amaro gave Contreras the second year in the contract. Word around baseball is that had Amaro not given the second year in the contract the Phillies would not have been able to bring the righty, who saw his popularity and the trust from his manager both sore to high levels, back to the team.
After starting for most of his entire career in 2009 the Colorado Rockies, picking him up from the White Sox for minor league pitcher Brandon Hynick, decided to move Contreras to their bullpen after 2 starts. Upon signing with the Phillies, Manager Charlie Manuel and pitching coach Rich Dubee worked with him and finished his conversion to a full time relief pitcher. He then rewarded the Phillies front office and coaching staff by turning in a season with few downs and plenty of ups. Throwing with what some said was his best velocity and control in years he anchored a bullpen that was beset with injuries, inconsistencies, inexperience (Rule 5 pickup David Herndon), and some inefficiency.
With Brad Lidge, JC Romero, Ryan Madson, and Chad Durbin all spending time on the disabled list, Romero and Durbin both inconsistent during the second half of the year, and Danys Baez a disaster, Contreras pitched in several different roles over the 162 game season. Charlie Manuel even stayed with him instead of going to his main lefthander Romero at times to get lefties out. That was the probably the best sign that he had full trust from Manuel to do the job and that trust is probably the biggest reason why he is once again a Philadelphia Phillie.
Among the other reasons why he is back with the Phillies are his 6 wins, 4 saves in 5 tries, a 3.34 ERA, 9.1 K/9 ratio, and a 1.218 WHIP, his lowest since his rookie season in 2003. He only gave up 16 walks in 56.2 innings showing excellent control that he had not displayed since 2006, tying his 2.5 career best BB/9 ratio. Most of the damage in his season was done during a 5 ER in 0.2 inning shellacking by the Cubs in mid July. That game alone jumped his ERA up from 2.79 to 4.25. He was also a part of Cheergate. Pitching in that awful game against the Twins where the Phillies blew a 5 run lead in the 9th. He was on the mound and gave up the home run to Jim Thome that received the standing ovation from the Phillies fans. Hey, who says Phillies fans only know how to boo people? He hit a small wall towards the later stage of the season, allowing 5 ER in 2 consecutive appearances in September, but otherwise pitched well down the stretch in the pennant drive. Even those 2 games were not fully his doing as a bad error by Jayson Werth against the Marlins and JC Romero’s ineffectiveness in the September 11th game against the Mets allowing 2 inherited runners to score both hurt him. Those games and another shaky effort against the Pirates were the only big blemishes on the season as he was flat out dominant for most of the rest of the year. Only Ryan Madson’s 2nd half after his return from injury was a more dominate effort out of the Phils pen and let’s face it. Madson was flat out, out of this world unhittable for that.
Those are the good reasons for bringing Contreras back. If there are any bad reasons for being wary the biggest are the relief jinx and his age. The relief jinx is kind of a baseball Murphy’s Law in that you never know just what you are going to get out of given relievers from year to year. Bullpens are often the hardest parts of a team to fill. Guys with proven track records sometimes just implode for no reason, especially after you sign them to big contracts. While some other relievers come out of nowhere to be lights out, and often enough a season later are looking for a job again because of a poor performance. The second reason, his age, is another factor to be kind of wary about this signing. Contreras is listed as being 38 and will turn 39 for the 2011 season. While he had the very good velocity and movement on his pitches last year he is not getting any younger and one does have to wonder if he can keep doing it. In his younger days, attitude and conditioning were sometimes a question with him, both with the Yankees and the White Sox his last few years there. One has to hope he will show up in spring training in great shape like he did last year.
All in all I think it is a excellent signing, one the Phillies both wanted to and had to do. It anchors the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings for the Phillies bullpen, at least from the right hand side. The cost isn’t overly bad, he was going to get a raise either way and like I said the 2nd year was necessary to get him wrapped up early so Ruben Amaro could concentrate on the other concerns for the team. 5.5 for 2 years may actually be a bargain when some of the other top relievers start to sign after the November 23rd arbitration deadline. With the Phillies having interest in both Hisanori Takahashi and Pedro Feliciano (lefthanded relief was the Mets only biggest success in 2010) as well as former Toronto reliever Scott Downs for JC Romero’s left handed spot and Eddie Bonine possibly being a long man instead of the overmatched David Herndon, the Phillies bullpen scene just may be looking a whole lot better all of a sudden, especially with Antonio Bastardo’s emergence down the stretch as another quality arm.
Sometime this week I will be looking at the other early moves the Phillies made so far. Utility man Pete Orr, swingman Eddie Bonine, and a longtime Phillies fan who finally gets the chance to maybe realize his lifelong dream, veteran minor league catcher and a very classy individual Eric Kratz. Those moves and maybe more depending on what goes on down at the General Managers meetings in Orlando this week.
Barry Jeffrey Jr. writes “The Crow’s Nest” column for PSC.
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