|Wednesday, December 11
Updated: December 18, 6:02 PM ET
Contreras goes out of his way to become free agent
By Tom Farrey
Jose Contreras, the star pitcher from Cuba's national team who defected to the United States in October, has filed for free agency with Major League Baseball after claiming he recently acquired legal residency in a Latin American country.
Jaime Torres, Contreras' Miami-based agent, told ESPN.com that he sent the required documents to the commissioner's office on Wednesday. Torres said he is hopeful baseball will approve Contreras' application before the end of the winter meetings, which run from Friday to Monday in Nashville.
"There are four or five teams that have really been waiting for this moment," Torres said.
The Boston Red Sox have expressed interest in Contreras, who is projected by many scouts as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter on a major-league team. The New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Florida Marlins, Atlanta Braves and Milwaukee Brewers also have called regularly about the status of Contreras, Torres said.
"We received his papers and we're reviewing them," Frank Coonelly, a lawyer for the commissioner's office, said Thursday.
Torres declined to publicly identify the country where Contreras acquired legal residency. The pitcher, who turns 31 this month, is currently working out in Nicaragua, where he also is seeking to become a legal resident as an alternative to the other country where he has gained official status, Torres said.
Major League Baseball requires that Cuban players gain legal residence in a country other than the U.S. and Canada in order to avoid its draft. The provision -- controversial with agents because players from other countries are usually declared free agents without having to change their immigration status -- forced Torres to hunt for a country willing to accept Contreras as a legal resident in short order. Finding one of those countries has become more difficult in recent years, as trade relations have warmed between many of those countries and Cuba.
Even then, Major League Baseball has sometimes rejected the legal residency of Cuban defectors, declaring the documents they submit as fraudulent. But Torres said he is confident that baseball will approve the paperwork they submitted to the league.
"If Major League Baseball is not satisfied with what I sent them today, I'll get them copies of the documents that are certified and notarized," said Torres, an attorney who specializes in representing Latin American players. "I'm looking at this as a lawyer. I'm prepared if baseball decides to challenge it."
In Nicaragua, Contreras is working out with a club team called San Fernando, serving a coach who gives clinics, Torres said. The work is part of his requirement to acquire legal residence in that country. He is living there with representatives of the team.
Assuming baseball approves his free agency status, the next step for Contreras is acquiring a U.S. visa to return to the United States to meet with major-league teams for interviews and workouts, said Torres. If he cannot line up a work visa in short order, major-league teams will have to fly to Nicaragua to check out Contreras.
Many teams, though, already are very familiar with Contreras, Cuba's top pitcher on the international scene over the past decade. In an exhibition game against the Baltimore Orioles in Havana, he struck out 10 batters and allowed just two hits in eight innings, throwing in the mid-90s with enviable breaking stuff.
Contreras led the Cuban league this year with a 13-4 record and 1.76 ERA for his hometown team, Pinar del Rio. He defected at a tournament in Monterrey, Mexico with a Cuban national team coach, Miguel Valdes.
Tom Farrey is a senior writer with ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. ESPN producer Willie Weinbaum contributed to this report.