The good news about Jose Contreras is that, at this point, you might as well just continue to list his age as 39. Because like your Aunt Lisa, who can tell for sure these days? Now in the second year of a two-year, $5.5 million deal, the Phillies hope that Contreras can return to his 2010 form following a 2011 season that was twanged by arm injuries and ended, in late August, under general anesthesia and near the knives, strings, and bionic parts on the tray near Dr. Lewis Yocum's hands. Regrettable, too, because in both 2010 and the limited time we saw him pitch in 2011 (17 games, 14 IP), he was pretty good (3.86 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 3.99 xFIP, 0 HRs allowed, and his five saves in 2011 even beat Bill James' projections by two). It was a small sample size to go on, but while his K rate (8.4) stayed steady, his walk rate doubled (5.1), leading to the late inning, high-WHIP parade many of us thought we'd see when he joined the Phillies. To his credit, Contreras has been effective in the back end of the bullpen, and in a variety of roles (setup, closer, heartwarming son, and ohwhatthehelltryanotherrighty guy).
Just this week, Contreras has been cleared to pitch off the mound, so if all goes well, he'll be in the mix of a pretty crowded bullpen. You have to figure that part of the reason for that crowd is that the Phillies might have just woken up to the realization that most guys in their 40s aren't too good at throwing baseballs over 90mph. If he can match his former velocity with his rebuilt right elbow, figure the Cuban's ceiling will be a 2011-vintage Brad Lidge, crafty but effective, with the temporary spurts of bullpen roster zaniness. The blue-sky scenario here will be three effective months from Conteras before his arm falls off, during which time Phillippe Aumont will finally learn how to stop walking dudes in Lehigh Valley. You'll just have to endure a month of Charlie Manuel handing the ball to Chad Qualls as the setup guy before Aumont gets the ball, but c'est la vie.
The downside risk of Contreras never seeing the light of day from the bullpen again is probably minimal from a talent perspective, but certainly irksome financially. Multi-year contracts for bullpenners at the zenith of their powers is one thing, perhaps, but for guys in their late 30s, it makes the palms of the accounts payable department employees who handle the invoices from the team's contract underwriters understandably cold and sweaty.
Remember when blowing $5 million on a guy who contributed next to nothing to the team after the Phillies signed him was a big deal? Admit it: Now it barely moves the needle on your inner Annoy-o-Meter. Ah, what the hell. We like Big Truck. And we cannot lie.