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Wednesday, December 18
Contreras can start contract talks with MLB clubs

Associated Press

MANAGUA, Nicaragua -- Cuban pitcher Jose Contreras can start contract talks with all major league teams after being declared a free agent Wednesday by the commissioner's office.

Contreras has established residency in Nicaragua, and the commissioner's office notified all teams that they could negotiate with the right-hander.

"My desire is to play baseball,'' Contreras said Wednesday. "I would play for any team, and I am going to give my all to not let them down.''

Contreras, who tried to get in touch with his relatives in Cuba but couldn't get through, said he received a congratulations call from the New York Yankees.

Contreras said he has no immediate plans to travel to the United States.

"I have many friends in Nicaragua and I want to spend Christmas with them,'' he said.

Agent Jaime Torres said Contreras is looking forward to talking to teams. A week ago, Torres submitted papers claiming the pitcher had established residency in Mexico, but the commissioner's office rejected them.

Luis Rodolfo Toruno, Nicaragua's director general of immigration, said Contreras arrived in Nicaragua last week on a tourist visa and was invited by several Nicaraguan friends to train with the San Fernando team in Masaya, 30 kilometers west of Managua.

Contreras was granted residency on Friday, Toruno said.

It's "a gesture of sympathy because here they love baseball,'' Contreras said.

Contreras was considered the top pitcher on Cuba's national team when he defected in October, while the team was in Mexico.

He first came to the United States, which made him subject to the amateur draft. Cubans who defect have tried to become residents of countries outside the United States and Canada, which allows them to be free agents.

Contreras, who turns 31 this month, allowed two hits in eight shutout innings against the Baltimore Orioles during an exhibition game at Havana in 1999. He struck out 10, including Albert Belle twice.

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