April 24, 2014

The good, the bad, & the ugly – The life & times of Chris Perez in Cleveland

Chris PerezAh Chris Perez…..Pure Rage…..The Beard…..The Long Hair…..The games in which he fired out a raucous yell after closing out a save……

The blown saves…..the 2012 mid-season strange but sadly true statements about ownership and the lack of fan support……the Marijuana bust……the media blackout……the late season slump that nearly cost the Indians a playoff spot…..

We ran the gamut didn’t we, CP?

It all came to an end rather quietly yesterday afternoon as the Indians gave Perez his release, making him a free agent. They held his rights for one more arbitration eligible season, but despite his lackluster 2013 performance, CP was going to receive around $9 million. The Tribe just was not going to pony that up for a closer in this market, especially one that lost his job in September and was as disliked by the fan base as any local player in recent memory. GM Chris Antonetti didn’t even wait. They released Perez the first possible time they could – the day after the World Series.

I think that pretty much says it all.

CP had clearly worn out his welcome here. I like to say he was Brandon Weeden before Brandon Weeden. When either stepped onto the field in Cleveland during the past year, they were greeted with immediate skepticism and boos. The Indians knew it, so they wasted no time in releasing him. There was obviously zero trade market for him, so Antonetti did the only thing he could; move on.

The Good

On June 27th of 2009, the Indians were already out of contention, so they shipped veteran third baseman Mark DeRosa to the St. Louis Cardinals for a pair of relievers; Jess Todd and a hard-throwing 23-year old set up man named Chris Perez. The Tribe had Kerry Wood entrenched as their closer, but he was in the first year of a two-year contract. Perez immediately began taking a key role in the back end of the Tribe bullpen.

With 2010 becoming a rebuilding year, it was not a matter of if, but when would the Indians deal Wood to a contender. He spent time on the disabled list to start the season and Perez took over as the interim closer. Upon his return, Wood was extremely shaky with his command. He had an ERA over six and converted just eight saves in 23 appearances. Plus, the Wood had a vesting option should he finish 55 games. Not saves, but finishing out games. The Indians absolutely did not want that to kick in, so they traded him at the deadline to the Yankees for two players to be named later. Perez was instantly moved back into the closers role where his career would take off.

CP looked like he was going to be a rock of a closer in 2010. He was the exact kind of guy the Indians haven’t had pitching the ninth since Jose Mesa was in his prime. He threw hard…Very hard.  The strikeouts were there and he wasn’t walking the tightrope on every save chance like his predecessors Wood, Joe Borowski, and Bob Wickman. Perez converted 23 of 27 save chances in roughly half of a season as the closer and posted his best full season WAR (2.5), ERA (1.71), and WHIP (1.08) of his career.

2011 would be his first full year as “the guy.” Again, he pitched well enough to make the Indians look like they made a steal of the deal with the Cardinals two years prior. Perez saved 36 games in 40 chances and made his first All Star team. However, 2011 this was the start of a trend of increasing ERA’s and decreasing WAR numbers.

On the field in 2012, CP went about his business again, making his second consecutive All Star team while saving a career high 39 in 43 opportunities. This was also the season in which Perez’s wild, off the cuff, remarks about the organization took the attention away from his on performance between the lines.

This past season was supposed to be make or break for him with the organization. Perez started the season as the closer, but battled through a shoulder problem which put him on the disabled list for a month. Upon his return, Chris was lights out as the Tribe kept on winning. He allowed just one run in 17 innings during late June and all of July, converting 11 straight saves. But come August, the issues settled back in and his game fell off the table.

The Bad

Every closer blows saves. Mariano Rivera all the way down to guys like Carlos Marmol. They all do it. But Perez had a knack for blowing the biggest saves at the worst times. It is easy to look back and remember them too. Some of them were spectacular. My favorite Perez fact: On each of the last three years, August 5th was a day to forget.

Perez had blown saves on that day three consecutive years. Two of them were the worst of the worst. 2012 he entered a game in Detroit in the bottom of the 10th with a three-run lead. The Tigers would score five to beat him with the capper being a walk-off grand slam from Miguel Cabrera. Exactly a year later, with the Indians opening a series with the Tigers that at the time was the biggest series played at Progressive Field since 2007, Perez struck again.

He had converted 11 straight saves as he took the ball in the ninth with a 2-0 lead. The Indians looked as though they would be trailing the Tigers by just a game and a half with a ton of momentum. Instead, Perez just flat out had nothing. Double….Single….Walk…Alex Avila (hitting .197 at the time) three-run homer…..I was in the stands that night. Perez walked off the field lustily booed. I thought it was the most ill-timed saved I’d seen since the 97 World Series. I was wrong.

From that moment forward, Perez was never truly the same and the fan base had all but given up on him. But there were still two months of the season left to be played. His ERA steadily rose and in key games in September, it was tough to count on him. He entered a tie game against the lowly New York Mets on September 8th with the Tribe looking for a sweep and gave up a two-out RBI double to Eric Young Jr. in a 2-1 loss. Only twice in September did Perez get the opponent in order without putting a runner on base. The straw that broke the camel’s back came in the last week of the season.

Everyone remembers Jason Giambi’s epic walkoff homer to beat the White Sox. What we will all try to forget is that Perez came into a a 4-2 game and gave up two homers in the ninth in a game the Indians absolutely could not lose. Here is what I wrote about Perez that night.

I’ve seen a thousands of baseball games in my day, and I can’t ever remember a player getting booed this mercifully in his home stadium. And he deserved every single bit of it.

Tribe manager Terry Francona, known for sticking with his players, gave CP one more shot. Two days later in Minnesota with a 6-1 ninth inning lead, Perez came in for some confidence boosting. Instead, he gave up four runs on four hits and had to be replaced. It turned out to be the last appearance Perez would make in an Indians uniform. Francona stripped him of his closer’s role but for some reason put him on the playoff roster. I couldn’t have imagined any scenario in which Perez would have been used in October.

The Ugly

Back in May of 2012, Perez saved a game against the Marlins in Cleveland. After the game, he decided he was going to let loose and tell the media what he really thought of the fans of Cleveland and the team’s ownership.

For old time sake, let us look back and the bombs CP dropped on the fans.

“I’m tired of getting booed at home, so I figured I’d throw some strikes today.”

“You can quote that. It doesn’t bother me. It (ticks) me off. I don’t think they have a reason to boo me. They booed me against the Mariners when I had two guys on. It feels like I can’t even give up a baserunner without people booing me. It’s even worse when there’s only 5,000 in the stands, because then you can hear it. It (ticks) me off.

“I’m not calling out the fans. It’s just how it is. That stuff is reserved for road games. We don’t want to deal with that crap. Here, good fans are supposed to help you try to get through the inning and say, ‘Hey, you’re only one pitch away,’ or ‘Hey, it’s all right.’ And then after I struck out (Seattle’s Jesus Montero), the mock standing applause just adds to it. You see their true colors.”

Then he went after the guys who sign his paychecks.

“Guys don’t want to come over here and people wonder why,” Perez said. “Why doesn’t Carlos Beltran want to come over here? Well, because of that. That’s part of it. It doesn’t go unnoticed — trust us. That’s definitely a huge reason. Nobody wants to play in front of 5,000 fans. We know the weather (stinks), but people see that. Other players know that.

“You had a choice of playing in St. Louis where you get 40,000 (fans) like Beltran chose to do, or you can come to Cleveland. It’s going to take more money to get him to come to Cleveland. That’s just how it is. That’s another thing that you have to go against. It’s not only the payrolls of the (American League) East teams, but that kind of stuff.”

“I understand. I completely understand, but the fans can’t take it personal when the players don’t want to stay here or players don’t want to come here,” he said. “It’s a business. You didn’t choose to get drafted by Cleveland. I’m in it for my family. Who knows? I could throw my last pitch tomorrow.

“At the same time, I’m here. I’m here to win. I’m here for my teammates and I want to bring a championship to Cleveland, to do my job and help the team win. I think I do a pretty good job of showing that on the field. I don’t think I bring any undue attention to myself. I’m out there for the team. In big wins, I get excited and I’m like a kid again, because it’s fun.”

At the time, many viewed his comments as ill-timed, but not necessarily wrong. As long as he did his job on the field, I for one didn’t care what he said. But it was the first of many instances in which Perez’s popularity with the fans took a hard hit.

Perez was never shy when he was actually speaking to the media. Take his comments about Manager Manny Acta after he was fired with a week to go in the 2012 season.

“They don’t know the whole story,” Perez said. “A lot of frustration from those comments, a lot of that walked out the door last week. I’ll just leave it at that.”

“The Manny you guys (reporters) saw and the Manny we saw were different guys. He’s not a very confrontational person. In this game we’re men. We can handle it. Sometimes we need a kick in the butt. He did it this year, but it was a couple of weeks too late.”

“Last year we didn’t get it at all. He only gave us two speeches, one at the start of the season and one at the end and we were playing for first place up until September.”

It sounds like a cliche, but a team does follow its manager, good or bad. If a manager has no activity on the field. If he doesn’t argue calls or get upset, why would his team?”

With Francona his new manager and the front office ponying up to sign free agents like Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn, Perez seemed to be extremely happy about where the team was headed. He almost seemed to relish and take some sort of credit as if the organization decided to listen to him. Things though only got worse for Perez as another off the field problem came to light.

On June 5th, word leaked from the Rocky River police that Perez and his wife Melanie were being investigated for drug possession. As the facts came down, they were both arrested for misdemeanor Marijuana charges. In the grand scheme of things, it turned out to cost Perez and his wife a $250 fine and probation, but his decision making became fodder for mockery. The report had the pot arriving at his house addressed to his dog, the now infamous Brody Baum. The Indians were not amused.

After the arrest, Perez made the decision that he would no longer be speaking to the media. I for one don’t care if he does one way or the other, but when you blow saves and then disappear without taking account for them after the game, leaving your teammates to answer for you, it is beyond a bad look. None of his teammates would admit so on the record, but you just know this had to eat at them. Respect for him had to have been lost inside the clubhouse.

The End

Add up the September meltdown, the off the field issues, his refusal to speak to the media, the extreme dislike for him amongst the fan base, and a salary expected to jump to roughly $9 million dollars, and yesterday’s decision by the Indians to release Perez was an easy one. It was time to cut the cord.

With all of this said, for the most part Perez did his on the field job well for his five seasons in Cleveland. He departs third all-time in saves and was one of them more interesting characters we have seen here in the past decade.

The Indians will most likely look in-house for his replacement, with Antonetti already mentioning Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw as possible candidates.

The real question is whether CP will be smart enough in his first post-Indians interview to take the high road. He has to know that he is essentially having a job interview for 29 other teams who already think he is a loose cannon of sorts. Then again, as Twitter friend @ejmaroun pointed out to me “this is the same guy who had weed sent to his house in his dog’s name.”

 

  • MrCleaveland

    Spoiled little rich kid.

  • Ed Carroll

    Said this to you yesterday, but putting Shaw or Allen in the closer role would be a mistake. Would start jacking up their arbitration salaries. (Of course, unless Francona wants to make me the happiest man on the planet and go with #closerbycommonsense, then I’m SO DOWN with that)

  • Harv 21

    “I like to say he was Brandon Weeden before Brandon Weeden.”

    Weeden was booed mercilessly by a good chunk of 70k fans in a nationally televised game, both before and while he was in the process of leading the Browns to a win. And in other games. And without fail he only says the classiest, mature things in response.

    Perez is a cross child who both actively sought out the press to air his grievances and shunned it when he didn’t like the coverage he was getting. He was a team distraction way more than any one player should be.

    Please, WFNY, can this be the last feature on this player? He’s not that important – mediocres like Wick and Doug Jones had more saves without an iota of the bratty drama. He’s not interesting, he’s an immature spoiled jock cliche. Let’s move on.

  • TNB

    Wouldn’t be surprised to see him resign with the Indians for a small sum. The guy has shown he can do it, and fans hating on him was (imo) generalized at him in reference to frustration the team in general. Dude was one of the small bright spots for a while, lets not forget that. Considering recent comments, I think a more apt comparison is josh cribbs. Had it for a moment, losing his luster, not really needed by the team.

  • CB Everett

    I’m afraid we haven’t heard the last of Perez. Inevitably he’s going to sign a deal somewhere and soon thereafter drop a bomb (or just open up the bomb bay entirely) on the org, the fans, ownership, etc.

    Then we’ll have a WFNY debate on whether he was right on X or had the right to speak on it, whether we have a right to be angry, whether we’re too sensitive or should just ignore the blowhards and not take the bait every time an ex athlete pops off like a woman scorned. This is our circle of life.

  • sja11

    I don’t know how mature it is to just come out and say you refuse to listen to your critics.

  • mgbode

    I think both sides need a fresh start. Best for all parties involved here. Let him go resurrect his career elsewhere and we’ll let the youngsters take over.

    as long as he doesn’t sign with Detroit.

  • nj0

    Yeah, too much history.

  • Steve

    The fans may think Perez wore out his welcome here, but that’s not the reason he’s gone. Even if we converted 90% of his saves this year and kept his mouth shut, he wasn’t getting close to $10M from the team next year. It’s all about allocating dollars to their most efficient use.

  • nj0

    “None of his teammates would admit so on the record, but you just know
    this had to eat at them. Respect for him had to have been lost inside
    the clubhouse.”

    I think this is a pretty big assumption.

  • Steve

    It was part of his job to forget about last night, and bounce back the next. He may not have been able to do it in the second half of last season, but that’s part of the training. That involves ignoring the Ocker slam-pieces and name-calling.

  • Steve

    And this was shown to be pretty untrue on the Giambi HR night. Giambi went straight to Perez to console him, pretty much letting him know the team had his back.

    I get it. Perez is a loud mouth jerk who we’re happy to see go. Instead of poking at him to take the high road, maybe we can do it ourselves. Thank him for the good times, and move on our way.

  • Guest

    Good article; the many faces of Pure Rage. I thank him for his service, wish him well, and eagerly look forward to his replacement.

    P.S. I think you mean “run the gamut” rather than gambit.

  • Jason Hurley

    Some consideration has to be given to his end-of-year meltdown, as well. While spending $10mm on a closer wouldn’t be and economically smart decision for this team, if he was a near-guaranteed, lights-out guy, they’d at least have to give it a little thought.

  • Jason Hurley

    Agreed.

  • Jason Hurley

    They’re ultimately going to peg someone to close. And that person’s arbitration salary will climb – it’s an inevitability.

  • Ed Carroll

    You’re assuming they stay in-house. I think they go dumpster diving for a reliever.

  • Steve

    Absolutely, part of it is the that he didn’t look like the guy with the 2.79 ERA and 89% save rate in 3+ years as closer coming into that Detroit game.

    Just like I think the Kerry Wood overpay was an overreaction to some bad luck (not just luck, but I think you get the point) building a pen on the cheap the previous few years, I think this team is going back to not allocating too much of the precious payroll space to the bullpen.

  • Steve

    Well, they’ve already done some dumpster diving, and I’m sure more Rich Hills will get minor league deals. I’d offer those to any and every reliever who will take one.

    But I don’t think they’re going to sign anyone who looks better than Shaw or Allen, making one of those two the default closer.

  • nj0

    Yeah, the Cards went most of the year using Mujica as a closer. Smart move is to keep your best relievers in the set-up men roles as those are usually higher leverage anyway and they won’t get rewarded as much in arbitration as closers will.

    Side note: no group owes more than closers do to Mariano Rivera. I think he’s the main reason they rake in the cash in arbitration.

  • Ed Carroll

    A) they may not get anyone better than Shaw/Allen, but that’s not the point. Point is not to jack up their costs.

    B) Hill wasn’t that bad. Look beyond ERA.

  • Ed Carroll

    29 teams try to build their bullpens around a pitcher only one team has. Rivera is a unicorn. Teams need to move on from the idea of closers.

  • CB Everett

    Enter the Matt Capp era?

  • Steve

    No reliever had a higher leverage than Perez last year, and it’s not really close. Around 2.0 for Perez, 1.5 for Smith, and 1.0 for Allen and Shaw. Closers are still pitching the highest leverage inning, mainly because set up men are treated as 7th and 8th inning closers instead of firemen.

  • Ed Carroll

    I’m not sure what you’re arguing there. You wanted them to keep Perez? That’s silly.

  • Steve

    I’m not saying Hill was bad, I’m saying he was a dumpster dive.

    Sure, try to game their salaries. Let me know how that works when dealing with real people.

  • nj0

    Where are those stats from?

  • Steve

    Where did I suggest that? I’m just pointing out that set-up men don’t pitch in as roles with as high a leverage as closers.

  • Ed Carroll

    Yep, the Rays have really had a hard time with it.

  • Steve

    Fangraphs,

    And the Cardinals leader was Mujica at 1.76, Rosenthal was close at 1.54.

  • Ed Carroll

    Sure they do. The 9th inning is not inherently a higher-leverage inning.

  • Steve

    The Rays bullpen was filled by four guys who were FA signings on the cheap – Rodney, Peralta, Wright, Farnsworth, and four pre-arb guys in Ramos, McGee, Torres, and Odorizzi. No one lost a bit of salary because of their role. Though we’ll see what happens with Torres and Odorizzi.

  • Ed Carroll

    Lol, this is EXACTLY what I’m advocating – cheap FA signings to fill the closer role. Don’t put the pre-arb guys there as it JACKS UP THEIR SALARIES.

  • Steve

    Well it is. There’s a much greater chance to come back from a blown lead in the 7th than the 8th than the 9th, and teams play/manage a bit more desperately to tie the game the later it gets, sacrificing in other places to get better matchups as it gets later.

    I’m all for matching up your best relievers against the heart of the opponents order regardless of which late inning it is. But the 9th is still higher leverage than previous innings.

  • Ed Carroll

    Sometimes the 9th is higer-leverage. Not always. Not even sure usually is correct either.

    Don’t let Shaw or Allen rack up saves. It only jacks up their costs. Leads to another Perez situaiton.

  • Steve

    The only guy the Rays had that was worth moving to the closer role was Torres, who, as a lefty is facing an uphill challenge to get that spot. They weren’t avoiding putting pre-arb guys there as much as they were simply unable to.

    Sure, I’m all for the Indians being able to find four cheap FAs who can pitch at the back end of the pen.

  • Ed Carroll

    They WERE avoiding this, quite deliberately. Read “The Extra 2%” by Jonah Keri. Great book about the Rays turnaround.

  • Steve

    Read it. Solid writing. But they had one pre-arb reliever worth putting in high leverage situations. They can say all they want that they did it deliberately, but they had little choice.

  • Steve

    We’ll you’re not sure, so I guess its settled.

  • Natedawg86

    Now what are we going to do with the 10,000 promotional mullets that we have in the closet at Progressive?

  • CB Everett

    Kenny Powers cross promotion?

  • Jason Hurley

    So, if the best canidate for the closer position is already in-house, don’t put the best guy in the role because the best guy might get paid more the next year? Not following this argument…

  • Ed Carroll

    Your closer isn’t necessarily your best reliever. Sometimes, but not always.

  • Jason Hurley

    I didn’t say best reliever – I said best candidate. Your argument seems to say that we should go out and get a guy to put in the closer’s role because using an in-house candidate (whether they be most-qualified or not) will cost the team more money the following year. That’s the part I’m not following.

  • Ed Carroll

    Well there’s not much difference between a qualified closer and a qualified reliever, because they’re really the same thing. And yes, it actually saves a ton of money in the long term. If they stick Cody Allen in the closer role, he’s not arb-elligible until 2016 (assuming he doesn’t hit Super-2 status, which is not a sure bet). Sure, 2016 is a ways off, but if he gets there with 60+ saves or whatever, his starting arbitration numbers will be MUCH higher, simply because of the saves (not to mention his cost in 2017 and 2018). It’s not a smart decision. It’s also why you likely won’t see Pestano in the closer role, assuming he’s healthy. So sign a scrap-heap guy for a year, and let the youngsters pitch in non-save high-leverage spots. Actually building a list of guys I want the Indians to take a look at now.

  • nj0

    Thanks. Interesting. Always assumed that 7th/8th inning relief was higher leverage, but – as you pointed out – the tendency is to treat them like the 9th.

  • Jason Hurley

    It’s cutting off your nose to spite your wallet. Given the interchangability of relievers, you put the guy in the closer’s role who is best suited for it (and no, not every reliever is, for whatever reason). That said, even if someone like Cody Allen’s arbitration number goes through the roof, you move on from him given the interchangability of relievers. You don’t ignore an internal candidate who could save you 3 or 4 more wins than a replacement because you’re worried about arbitration in the future. You win now.

  • Ed Carroll

    It’s not cutting off anything. Your logic has two major errors. The first is that closers (or really, relievers) are worth “three or four MORE wins than replacement” (emphasis mine). That’s simply not true. Craig Kimbrel, arguably the best “closer” left now, was only worth 3.3 WAR (on the Indians, Smith was worth 1.8 WAR and Allen 1.4 WAR). They’re not that valuable. You even admit relievers are interchangeable, so it’s not a huge deal not putting them in the “closer” role. Using them in a setup role would likely put them in more high-leverage situations than if they were the dedicated 9th-inning guy. Then their slalaries stay low, and they have more value if you need to move them.

    Your second error is that keeping Allen/Shaw in a setup role somehow compormises “now” in order to save money for the future. Again, this is flawed. It’s a smart play to save on the margins and it does not hurt your team at all in the short run, and helps IMMENSELY in the long run. “Closers” are simply not that valuable. Setup relievers often come into the game in more curcial situations, and this saves money in the long run. It’s NOT cheap. it’s smart, and it does no harm to the team’s chances to win in 2014, and beyond.