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Keep Contreras?

by J.J. Stankevitz

You can never have too much depth in your starting rotation. The 2006 White Sox will exemplify that fact by having six starters on the 2006 roster. Jose Contreras will not be traded before the season starts, so donít get your hopes up about getting Bobby Abreu. And itís a good thing that Contreras will not be traded, as it is possible that he could win 20 games this year.

Contreras went 15-7 with an ERA of 3.61 last year. He was at his best after the All-Star break, going 11-2 with a 2.96 ERA down the stretch. The work that pitching coach Don Cooper has done with Contreras has been incredible. He has Contreras attacking the strike zone with fastballs instead of nibbling around the corners. He has taught Contreras how to effectively use his devastating splitter. In effect, Cooper has taught Contreras how to pitch.

2006 is a contract year for Contreras. Players generally play well their contract years, hoping to strike it rich on the market. For example, Mariners third baseman Adrian Beltre banged out 48 home runs and hit .334 for the Dodgers in 2004, a contract year. In 2003, Beltre had only hit .240 with 23 home runs. After signing a fat contract with the Mariners, Beltre reverted to his old ways, hitting .255 with only 19 home runs. Kevin Millwood, who recently signed a five-year, $60 million contract with Texas, pitched well in his contract year. Millwood sported a 2.86 ERA in 2005 with Cleveland in 2005, compared to ERAís of 4.01 and 4.85 with Philadelphia in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

Expect Contreras to be motivated towards a big payday in 2006. With his stuff, it will be scary for the rest of the AL Central. With a full season of Contreras pitching at the level he was at down the stretch last year, it is not out of the realm of possibility that Contreras will win 20 games and have an ERA in the low-to-mid threeís.

There are other benefits to keeping Contreras with the team in 2006. Brandon McCarthy can be used as an emergency starter in the event of a pitcher getting injured or just simply having a tired arm. The Sox were fortunate to only lose one starting pitcher due to injury last season, that pitcher being Orlando Hernandez. Freak injuries to a pitcher can occur at any time. Last season, Giants closer Armando Benitez tore his hamstring while covering first base on a routine ground ball. Mark Prior was hit in the elbow with a sharp comebacker and lost a good portion of his 2005 season. By keeping Contreras, it allows the Sox to have something that very few other teams have, and that is an effective starter to fill in in case of injury.

The Sox donít need a player like Bobby Abreu in the way the Bears need a proven quarterback. Trading for Abreu would ultimately lead to trading Contreras. You never trade good pitching for good hitting under any circumstance. All Sox fans know, pitching wins championships. And by keeping Contreras, the 2006 White Sox have just that. Pitching.


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