August 26, 2014

The Folly of the Chris Perez Deal

Chris PerezOn one of the first podcasts that I did with Craig I was trying to explain why I thought the Indians simply had to trade Chris Perez before the 2013 season started.

“You DO NOT spend one-tenth of your payroll on a pitcher who might throw 60 innings,” I argued.  “If we keep Perez, there is a chance he will be our highest paid player.  There is just no reason to allow that to happen, especially when rich teams habitually overpay for closers in trades and on the free agent market.  We can free up that money to spend elsewhere AND add talent to the roster from the trade.  This is a no-brainer.”

And that’s when Craig supplied me with a metaphor: “Jon, you’re a homeowner now.1  You’re saying it would be like splurging on a $50,000 basement renovation in a $100,000 house?  It’s just not worth it?”

I like Craig’s analogy, but let me reimagine it slightly. Paying exorbitant amounts of money for a closer is like taking out a life insurance policy on your team’s season.  Teams like the Yankees or Red Sox or Dodgers or Angels or Rangers—these teams have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in their roster.  They have, collectively, committed to spending nearly a billion dollars next season on their respective rosters.2  For teams with these sorts of financial commitments, you can sort of understand why they wouldn’t want a question mark at the backend of the bullpen.  Perhaps spending one-twenty-fifth of your total investment to make sure it doesn’t all go up in flames could even be considered prudent, considering the money involved.

The Indians, on the other hand?  Well, a small market team paying big bucks for a closer would be akin to taking out a big fat life insurance policy on your unemployed, alcoholic Uncle Bob instead of using the money to buy him a new suit, a haircut, and a job-interview prep class. 3  You end up spending far more on the insurance policy than you’re ever likely to recoup, especially when the money could have been used more judiciously in the first place on something you and Bob could’ve really used.

Enter Chris Perez and his shiny new one-year deal for $7.3 million—a deal that allowed the Indians to continue their arbitration drought.  Because of the Nick Swisher deal, Perez will be only the second highest player on the team rather than the highest.  WHEEEEE! This for a player who has averaged fewer than 60 innings pitched over the last three years.  He’ll make more money in 2013 than Rafael Soriano, who just signed a $28 million free agent deal with the Washington Nationals. Looking over this list, I see only one closer in all of baseball who signed over the off-season to make more money in 2013 than Chris Perez did: Mariano Rivera.

Not only does Perez’s new contract hurt his trade value (as he becomes more expensive, he’s necessarily less valuable as a trade commodity since an acquiring team has to foot the higher bill), but I’m also left wondering all the ways the Indians could’ve used that money instead.

How about an arm to bolster one of the worst rotations in baseball last year?  Edwin Jackson will make only $4 million more pitching for the Cubs than Brett Myers will on the Indians this year.

Maybe a first baseman who strikes out less than 200 times per year strikes your fancy? The difference between what we gave Mark Reynolds and what Nationals gave Adam LaRoche was only $5 million in 2013.

I’m not sure exactly where Mike Aviles will play this season, but it’s clear this team is missing a DH and he’ll likely patch a hole somewhere in there.  Lance Berkman signed for roughly $7 million more than Mike Aviles will make this season after arbitration.

The point is that $7 million is a lot of money, even in Major League Baseball, and a team like the Indians can’t afford to waste it.  Couple that with the fact that Perez might’ve even netted us considerable value in a trade?  I say it again: what a waste.

Waste? I can hear you from here.  How is it a waste to keep together a great young bullpen?

Point taken. But if great young bullpens were so instrumental in winning one’s division, shouldn’t the 2012 Indians have run away with the AL Central rather than being outscored by a wider margin than every other team in the American League?  If having a good closer meant anything (and if Chris Perez were a good closer—a fight for another day, to be sure) wouldn’t the Indians have the hardware to back it up these last few years?  Isn’t it possible that a sure-thing closer is a luxury while a real designated hitter or a first baseman who isn’t blind or a starting rotation with a collective ERA under 5.00 might actually be necessities?  I think it’s possible, and, at the risk of mixing eight different metaphors, I wonder if the Indians didn’t just put some fancy surround sound speakers in their rusted out double-wide.

It’s never too late to still make this trade and recoup some value from Chris Perez before he signs a free agent deal with the Marlins in a few years.4  But the longer this goes on, the fewer dance partners we’ll have left, and I can’t help thinking that we already passed the apex of Perez’s trade value sometime last July.

This off-season has been filled with more positives than negatives so far.  I’m onboard with the Swisher signing.  I like the Francona hire.  I loved the Choo trade and can’t wait to see Trevor Bauer.  I believe Drew Stubbs will be fun to watch, and Mark Reynolds will be better than Casey Kotchman and Brett Myers can’t be worse than David Huff and Jeanmar Gomez.

But I told myself that if the Indians opened the 2013 season with Chris Perez on the roster, they will have blown the off-season.  They will have taken an asset and, simply by doing nothing, turned it into a liability.  A young, promising talent is on its way to becoming the one thing a team like the Indians can never have—a final year arbitration player counting down the days to free agency, leaving town for free.

Maybe I’m wrong about all this.  Maybe the Indians will claw their way into the post-season by the skin of their teeth, powered primarily by the talented young bullpen we saw on display last year.  Maybe they wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything without their hirsute closer.  Maybe closers matter way more than I think, and this’ll be the year I’m proven wrong about them, once and for all.  I sure hope so.

But would I bet $7.3 million on it?  Nah.  I’d rather have a real DH and just get Uncle Bob that job already.  That’s just me, though.

(Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)

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Footnotes:

  1. This is, technically speaking, unture.  My wife and I decided last night that the bank owns the home, and I have thus far managed to purchase the first floor powder room from them. []
  2. touches inverted pinky to corner of mouth []
  3. Not everyone’s Uncle Bob is unemployed and/or alcoholic.  But EVERYONE has an Uncle Bob. []
  4. Seriously, is there a better fit of franchise and player? Will Smith can sing at the opening press conference.  It’ll be the jiggiest []
  • wahoowarrior

    I don’t see how us signing Perez has any effect on his trade value, in that he was arbitration-eligible no matter who owned him and any team trading for him a month ago would have had to pay him now. I think the fact that he is on a one year deal helps us because teams can take a half year flier on him for a playoff push (unless, God willing, we need him ourselves), and not worry about tying money up in their closer long-term. Besides, look at how long Soriano sat on the shelf. The closer market was a buyer’s market this offseason. Hopefully those dynamics will shift as teams scrap and claw for that second wildcard spot and maybe we get to flip Rage for something better than we would’ve gotten in December.

  • MrCleaveland

    1. The guy who invented the Save statistic, with it’s laughably lenient criteria, totally messed with the mind of baseball. General managers overpay for closers, and robot managers feel obligated to use them regardless of how the game is playing out. The Save has damaged people’s ability to think rationally. It’s truly amazing.

    2. Regarding “a real DH,” I think the Tribe’s organizational philosophy has switched so that the brass no longer wants a traditional masher with an iron glove as a DH. Now they want to use the DH spot to get good match-ups and to rest guys. I think it’s a good thing. Guys like Pronk may be on the way out, at least for some teams, because they limit line-up flexibility.

  • WFNYJon

    Agree with you on the “Real DH” thing, and I probably needed to word that differently. I think what I meant to say is that our starting nine right now probably includes either Aviles or Marson, depending on how you count. I would’ve used the $7 million to remedy that. (Or do something with the rotation, like Shaun Marcum or Edwin Jackson.)

  • WFNYJon

    Fair points. I still think his trade value will never be higher than it was last July, which, to be fair, is when I started advocating they move him.
    I hope you’re right and that he looks more attractive this coming season as we push toward the deadling. But for that to happen he’s going to have to look a lot more like the 2012 version than the 2011 one, and there’s not a whole lot of reason to know which we’re about to get. On top of that, I don’t see a contending team trading its closer, which means either (a) we’re not contending at the deadline and we move him, or (b) we get stuck with an expensive asset all over again. From an optics perspective, you can trade your closer in the off-season and sell it to the fan-base. I’m not sure you can do that in a pennant race.

  • Harv 21

    I’m a half-wit about these things, but is it possible that they tried but couldn’t trade him? And they think if they avoid arbitration and the toxic statements that Perez would surely make Francona might coax an excellent half-seasonout of him and then they could get some value in return for the inflated salary?

    The other thing is that just because an excellent bullpen didn’t make the Indians a contender doesn’t mean you can contend without one. They did have that little issue with starting pitching last year. (btw, can’t wait for the latest version of Ubaldo’s “fixed mechanics” – woohoo!!)

  • http://www.facebook.com/clark.quick Clark Quick

    I see your point about Closers being a luxury vs a necessity. However, whenever I think about Closers I always think about Mesa in ’97. After that year I became obsessed with the idea that if your team is going to be successful in the playoffs then you need a competent if not elite closer. Admittedly, we need to make the playoffs otherwise the closer is pretty meaningless. I just hate the idea of taking a piece that is top 5 in baseball and disassembling it to go from bad to serviceable in another area.

  • Brandon

    I would also trade Chris Perez, but only due to the logjam of reliever prospects in the upper minors now. How are you going to bash Perez for the indians terrible play the last few years? I could say that if Choo/Cabrera/Masterson/Pestano were really that good then we should’ve won more games last year. Weak argument!

    How is CP going to make more than Soriano? 14 mill vs 7 mill.

    Perez a liability??? When midseason rolls around and the inevitable powerhouse team is having a tough year in the pen, they will pay a small fortune for an all star closer under control for a year and a half.

    Trading Perez just to trade him would be a huge mistake, kudos for Antonetti for waiting for the right moment.

  • Jaker

    1) I do not have an Uncle Bob. Tim, Jay, Jeff, Kevin, Dean, Mark, Carl and Jerry would have been accepted, but no Uncle Bob. The best I can give you is that my moms brothers ex wife is now married to a “Bobbie”, but that cannot count.

    2) I CANNOT AGREE WITH YOU MORE about the missing out on Perez’s trade value. He was cheaper, he was better and he hasn’t shown that he’s a pretty terrible person via twitter and post game conferences. It’s almost as if his trade max was an expiration date, the moment we passed it, things got sour and much, much worse.

    3) However, Perez has a chance to redeem himself. If he pitches to All Star form this year (possible, he did it last year, even though Rivera is back now) or if we deal. I’m and get some younger pieces to either help out our pitching staff or solve the revolving 1B door, then maybe we will have cashed in before it became too late.

    Because we know he’s leaving the first chance he gets.

  • ToxicToast

    I would also tend to think the front office has explored Perez’s trade value this offseason and couldn’t find the right deal. Given what the Pirates got for Hanrahan, there may not have been any reasonable offers on the table. I think a May-July timetable for a trade would make sense once closers start getting injured or start underperforming. The point does still remain that July of 2012 was probably the time to deal him.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Not trying to offend, but I’m not sure the point you are making… Mesa was considered an elite closer in those days. At the time it was almost unconscionable that he would blow that game 7.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I feel you, Jon… my Uncle Bob’s name is Bill. Couldn’t hold a steady job since Vietnam.

  • saggy

    Yes, Perez’s trade value was highest last year. But part of that, i believe, is that the rest of the league didn’t then know what I did: Perez is a mid-tier closer. dime-a-dozen.

  • Matt S

    It’s all good and well to say “he should be traded”. But unless a team is willing to trade for him, and trade more than a c-level prospect, you don’t just trade a valuable commodity for nothing. Every time someone suggests “we should trade Perez”, people look at the trade rumor mill and find the exact same thing: there’s no market for him. Because as much as we want to be the “smart savvy team”, if we as fans recognize something (i.e, he’s not nearly as good as surface stats suggest, closers are overpaid), there’s a fair chance rival front offices know the exact same thing.

    Listen, I’d trade him for a starter like Porcello or Capuano in a heartbeat. I’d include one of our half-dozen well-regarded middle infield prospects (except Lindor, Lindor should be untouchable) to do it. But that doesn’t mean the Dodgers or Tigers, two teams who both have demonstrable weaknesses in their bullpen, would do those trades. And I’m not fine with trading him for nothing. Trading Perez weakens the bullpen, it makes Pestano more expensive when he hits arbitration, and you send a bad message to both the team and fans. You trade Perez if you get something back of value. They haven’t been able, as reports suggest, to get anything of value for him. So you keep him.

  • Jim

    According to all projections, Perez was expected to make $7.2 million through arbitration. Is he “worth” that? Probably not, especially if you think the save is overvalued but according to projections, his contract was right in line with what he is worth.

  • The_Matt_Of_Akron

    Let’s trade him to Seattle for Felix Hernandez or something. We haven’t done one of those lopsided trades (aka highway robbery) in awhile.

  • Gregg Leeb

    Are you nut’s. First off the Indians didn’t have any choice. They would have lost the arbitration process. Second off the market for closers isn’t very promising at this time. Why trade Perez at less than market value.
    Francona is trying to create a winning atmosphere in Cleveland. One of the big objective achieve this offseason is the Indians are no longer in a position to have to get rid of players. They can wait until someother team is desperate and will give fair value for a player they need.
    The signing of Soriano is an example of how depressed the market for closers is at this time. Paying a fair wage to your players is always a good practice. Perez is worth the money he signed for.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jordan.jadallah.7 Jordan Jadallah

    Well, now that we have signed Michael Bourn it makes sense to keep Perez. Nothing can hurt a young team trying to win more then losing in the 9th. Closers are perhaps overrated but they are also very very important. Just ask Jose Mesa in 95. Team would not have been the same without him. Or Mesa in 97, we would have won a WS. Or how about the horrible bullpens of a decade ago? We might have had much better teams if our bullpen was not so bad. The reason closers are so important is because they are the last man standing between you and everything you have been working for. The win. Some guys cannot handle the pressure and some guys can until they blow their first save. Or get to a playoff game. They are so important because the rest of your team cannot function without them. I would say they are important even on losing teams because losing in the 9th over and over again can really hurt morale. So, if no team was willing to give us grade A prospects for him I am glad we did not trade him. Now we have a very good closer to go with our revamped and restocked team. His value should be even higher this trade deadline or next offseason now that he should have alot more chances to close games. Leading or being at the top of the league in saves can only help his value. I know you did this before Bourn but still I have to disagree.

  • BD

    Wow – how prophetic reading this article 8 months after it was written. I mean how can GM;s be so stupid and still have their job. How about the Hafner and Sizemore fiasco! THe only the compares to this is the Yankees taking Hafner again. OK $2M is probably chump change to NY so maybe not a good example.