José Ariel Contreras
- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 224 lb.
- Debut March 31, 2003
- Final Game May 27, 2013
- Born December 6, 1971 in Las Marteinas, Pinar del Río, Cuba
Pitcher José Contreras was one of Cuba's top players and won an Olympic silver medal for them in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. He fanned 12 in five shutouts in the 1995 Intercontinental Cup to help Cuba win the Gold. Contreras allowed five runs in five innings despite 8 strikeouts in the 1997 World Port Tournament. In the 1997 Intercontinental Cup, Contreras was 2-0 with a save and a 2.61 ERA. He allowed 13 hits and struck out 23 in 20 1/3 IP. He tied Pedro Luis Lazo, Abel Madera, Koji Uehara and Akio Shimizu for the most wins in the tournament. In the Gold Medal game, he allowed 4 runs in 6 1/3 IP of relief after replacing Ciro Licea in a 11-2 romp by Japan. He was the best of the four hurlers Cuba tried in the finale, the first Gold Medal game they had dropped in 15 years.
He was the top pitcher in the 1998 Haarlem Baseball Week. He was an All-Star pitcher in the 1998 Baseball World Cup, beating Byung-hyun Kim in the finale and going 2-0 with a 0.53 ERA and 28 K in 17 IP, allowing 8 hits and 3 walks for the tourney. He tied for the tourney lead in wins, was 4th in ERA and tied Kim for second in strikeouts, trailing Koji Uehara. Contreras was 2-0 in the 1998 Central American and Caribbean Games but had the worst ERA on the Cuban staff, 4.61, as they won Gold.
In the 1999 Pan American Games, Contreras beat the Dominican national team 3-1 in the quarterfinals. He then came back on one day's rest to shut down Team USA in the Gold Medal game. He struck out 13 and allowed only four hits and a run in 8 innings against the first Team USA to feature professional players. He won that game 5-1 over Brad Penny.
In the 2001 Baseball World Cup, Contreras allowed only 11 hits and four walks while striking out 22 in 21 2/3 IP. He went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA, allowing only one unearned run. He one-hit a Canadian national team which used six position players who would appear in the majors - Aaron Guiel, Rich Butler, Justin Morneau, Scott Thorman, Ryan Radmanovich and Kevin Nicholson plus AAA player Todd Betts. In the semifinals, he pitched 10 2/3 innings of one-run ball against Japan to hand that club its first loss of the Cup. The only run came in the first when Tadahito Iguchi singled in Hirokazu Ibata. Contreras whiffed 11 in that game. He joined Jason Stanford as the tourney's All-Star pitchers, having led in ERA and finished third in strikeouts, tying Shugo Fujii and trailing Chih-Chia Chang and Roger Deago.
In 2002, he fled his homeland and came to the United States. After receiving offers from several major league clubs, he signed with the New York Yankees in early 2003. He posted a 7-2 record and 3.30 ERA as a rookie, splitting the season between the bullpen and the rotation. In 2004, he was a full-time starter, going 8-5 for the Yanks before being sent to the Chicago White Sox in a deal at the trade deadline. In 2005 with the Sox, he had the finest year of his big league career. He had a 4-5 record at the All-Star break, but went 11-2 from then on, winning his last eight decisions. Contreras carried his fine performance into the postseason, going 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA in four starts and winning Game 1 of the World Series over the Houston Astros. He won both the opening games of the ALDS and the World Series.
In 2006, Contreras continued to look like the Sox ace, starting the season 9-0 and stretching his regular-season win streak to 17 games, a White Sox record. He also made the All-Star team for the first time in his career. However, Contreras struggled after the break, going 4-9 with a 5.40 ERA from then forward, and ended the season with a 13-9 mark. The next season, 2007 he had his worst year in the majors, losing 17 games and putting up a 5.57 ERA. He continued to struggle in 2008 and 2009, going 7-6, 4.54 in 20 starts, the first year, and then 5-13, 5.42 the second, before being dealt to the Colorado Rockies in late August in return for a non-prospect, Brandon Hynick. Put in the bullpen, he pitched better with Colorado, going 1-0, 1.59 in 7 games. He was added to the post-season roster by the Rockies and pitched twice in the NLDS against the Philadelphia Phillies, giving up a run in 2 innings.
Before the 2010 season, Contreras signed as a free agent with the Phillies and pitched very well out of the bullpen. In 64 games, he went 6-4, with 4 saves, striking out 57 opponents in 56 2/3 innings. He pitched 4 games in the post-season, giving up a hit and nothing else in 4 innings while striking out 4 batters. At the start of the 2011 season, manager Charlie Manuel used him as his closer with Brad Lidge unavailable, and he picked up 5 saves quickly, without giving up an earned run. However, he was placed on the disabled list after registering his 5th save on April 21st, and only pitched 9 more times that year, getting hit hard. By then, Ryan Madson had taken over as closer, and Contreras mainly made short appearances in the middle innings. He ended the year with no record and a 3.86 ERA in 17 games and 14 innings, his last appearance coming on June 19th. He was back on the mound on the start of the 2012 season. He made 17 appearances, with a 1-0 record and a 5.27 ERA. He struck out 15 with only 3 walks in 13 2/3 innings. However, his season ended brutally on June 1st, when he crumpled to the ground in pain after making a pitch and had to be removed from the game immediately. A MRI confirmed that he had torn a ligament and tendon in his elbow, and would require surgery and a long rehabilitation to pitch again. The Phillies declined to pick up his option after the season, making a free agent.
Still, Contreras was not yet ready to give up baseball and in 2013 signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates to continue his rehabilitation. After minor league rehab stints, Jose was activated and appeared for his 5th big league team at the age of 41, giving up 5 runs in 5 innings. He then pitched for the AAA Indianapolis Indians, putting up an ERA of 0.93 in 16 games. He asked for his release and moved to the Boston Red Sox in mid-season, but only pitched in AAA for them, with a 6.52 ERA in 6 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox. After the season, not ready to give up just yet, he signed a minor league contract with the Texas Rangers, coupled with an invitation to spring training.
Contreras was allowed to return for a visit to his homeland in January of 2013, being the first athlete to take advantage of a new immigration law designed to make it easier for former defectors to visit their families, a sign that the rigid ideology that for five decades had branded defectors as traitors was showing cracks. He received a hero's welcome as hundreds of fans turned out in Pinar del Rio to have their pictures taken with him; he had primarily made the trip to visit his ailing mother. As he explained, when his father had died one year after his defection, "I had to attend the funeral by phone". Luckily, his mother's health was improving after his visit.
- AL All-Star (2006)
- AL Shutouts Leader (2007)
- 15 Wins Seasons: 1 (2005)
- 200 Innings Pitched Seasons: 1 (2005)
- Won a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005