On 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)
- 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. [↩]
- touches inverted pinky to corner of mouth [↩]
- Not everyone’s Uncle Bob is unemployed and/or alcoholic. But EVERYONE has an Uncle Bob. [↩]
- Seriously, is there a better fit of franchise and player? Will Smith can sing at the opening press conference. It’ll be the jiggiest [↩]