Saturday, March 6, 2004

El Duque agrees to return to Yankees


TAMPA, Fla. -- Orlando Hernandez is returning to the New York Yankees.

El Duque, recovering from a shoulder injury that caused him to miss last season, reached a preliminary agreement Saturday on a one-year contract that guarantees him $500,000.

The deal is subject to Hernandez passing a physical, which is scheduled for Monday. He could arrive at the Yankees' spring training camp as early as Sunday afternoon, according to his agent, Jeff Moorad.

"The chance to come back to the Yankees was an opportunity he did not want to pass up," Moorad said.

Hernandez's deal includes bonuses of $3,000 per day on the active roster, $45,000 per start and $12,500 per relief appearance.

El Duque, who made $4.1 million last year while on the Montreal Expos' disabled list, had surgery May 12 to repair a small tear in his rotator cuff. It's estimated the right-hander, believed to be 38, needs two or three more months to get into shape to pitch in the major leagues.

"Billy Connors believes at the latest June," Moorad said, referring to the Yankees' vice president of player personnel.

Hernandez, if healthy, would give the Yankees additional pitching depth. Their projected rotation includes Mike Mussina, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez, Jose Contreras and Jon Lieber, but Contreras has been slowed by lower back stiffness and Lieber by a tight right groin.

The Yankees say both injuries are minor, and Contreras was scheduled to pitch Sunday against Boston. Lieber could get in a game by next weekend.

After defecting from Cuba, Hernandez joined the Yankees for the 1998 season and helped them to three straight World Series titles and four AL pennants in five years. He was 53-38 with a 4.04 ERA in the regular season and 9-3 with a 2.51 ERA in the postseason.

New York traded him to the White Sox on Jan. 15, 2003, for right-handers Antonio Osuna and Delvis Lantigua, with the Yankees paying $2 million of Hernandez's salary. Chicago then dealt him the same day to Montreal with right-hander Rocky Biddle and outfielder Jeff Liefer for right-hander Bartolo Colon and infielder Jorge Nunez. Montreal paid Hernandez the $300,000 minimum, with Chicago picking up the other $1.8 million.

Hernandez became a free agent Dec. 20 when the Expos declined to offer him a contract. His addition raises New York's payroll to $181.4 million.