Phillies keep Contreras for $5.5 million over 2 years

Jose Contreras, a 38-year-old free agent, is returning after his success and durability in relief last season impressed the team.
Jose Contreras, a 38-year-old free agent, is returning after his success and durability in relief last season impressed the team.
Posted: November 16, 2010

One day - it was early in spring training - Charlie Manuel saw the vehicle Jose Contreras had driven to Bright House Field in Clearwater, Fla., and the manager was smitten.

"How about the 'Big Truck?' " Manuel exclaimed each time Contreras impressed him or simply when the manager passed the hulking Cuban in the clubhouse. The nickname stuck, and so did Contreras, who had been signed in what general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. called a "leap of faith" near the end of the winter as a reliever - a role the 38-year-old righthander had never filled on a regular basis.

On Monday, the Phillies rewarded Contreras for excelling out of the bullpen, re-signing the free agent for two years at $5.5 million. He can earn even more with incentives, and the team holds a club option for 2013.

There are perils in such a deal: Contreras, who will turn 39 next month, appeared in a career-high 67 games in 2010, and predicting the performances of middle relievers from year to year is risky.

But Monday, the Phillies were confident in their investment

"Jose was as consistent a reliever as we had last year," Amaro said in a statement. "We were pleasantly surprised by his durability since it was his first full year in a relief role. Jose has fit in extremely well in our clubhouse, and he is a quality back-end-of-the-bullpen pitcher who showed versatility in a variety of roles in 2010. We're pleased to have him on board for the next couple of years."

The market is flush with middle-relief help, but the Phillies moved quickly on Contreras as the GM meetings began in earnest Monday in Orlando. He had a 3.34 ERA in 562/3 innings in 2010. He struck out 57 and walked just 18 batters. He saved four games when Brad Lidge was hurt or unavailable and offered late-inning relief the Phillies had hoped to receive from Danys Baez, who signed a two-year deal before last season.

Contreras made $1.5 million and was due a raise. He could have tested the market longer, but both sides settled on comfort and familiarity.

The Phillies have made their bullpen a priority this winter. With Contreras back, there's a chance it will look quite similar to last season's.

One change will be the lefthanders. J.C. Romero is a free agent and will not be back. Antonio Bastardo could figure more prominently, and acquiring another lefthander will be among Amaro's top tasks this week in Orlando.

Righthander Chad Durbin is a free agent, and the Phillies are expected to submit their first formal offer to his agent this week.

Durbin could seek a multiyear deal on the market and has received interest from several teams, including some that have inquired about his becoming a starting pitcher again. Durbin did that for parts of eight seasons in the majors before joining the Phillies in 2008.

Contact staff writer Matt Gelb

at 215-854-2928 or Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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