December 6 – Happy Birthday Jose Contreras
The real problem the Yankees had with pitcher Jose Contreras was that they had to pay him $32 million to convince him not to sign with the Red Sox, after the big right-hander defected from Castro’s Cuba in October of 2002. New York’s generosity in pursuit of Contreras evoked the famous statement from Red Sox owner, Larry Lucchino in which he labeled his AL Eastern Division arch rivals, the “Evil Empire.” So the expectations for this guy were huge within the Yankee front office and their enthusiastic and self congratulatory gushing over his signing caused Yankee fans like me to believe Contreras would pitch even better in pinstripes than his fellow Cuban defector, Orlando Hernandez had done a few years earlier. So when Contreras did not pitch as well as El Duque did, especially during his second (2004) season with New York, the fans would boo and the Yankee front office would sweat nervously. Joe Torre shuffled him between the starting rotation and the bullpen in an effort to find his comfort zone but that never really happened.
Having written all that, it is important to note that Contreras was not exactly a bust in pinstripes. During his season and a half in New York he compiled a 15-7 record, which included a 6-1 record as a starter in his rookie season when he also posted an ERA of 3.30. That was not enough return for Steinbrenner et al on their $32 million investment. The front office became intent on dumping Contreras and as much of his remaining contract as possible and ended up sending him and a bundle of cash to the White Sox for starter Esteban Loaiza at the 2004 All Star break. The deal looked good on paper for New York because Loaiza had won 21 games for Chicago the season before and was 9-5 thus far in 2004 at the time of the trade. But he failed miserably as a Yankee while Contreras finally got his big league bearings in the Windy City and became a key starter in the rotation that led the White Sox to the 2005 World Championship. Contreras was born on December 6, 1971 in La Martinas, Cuba. He pitched in the Phillie bullpen last season.