Ah 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”