This isn’t breaking news at this point, but former Indians closer Chris Perez got a nice little Christmas present the other day: a one-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Perez reportedly will earn $2.3 million in 2014, and can earn up to approximately $8 million if certain incentives are met.
The Dodgers already have an effective closer in 26-year-old Kenley Jansen, who converted 88% of his save opportunities for the Dodgers this past season. Furthermore, the Dodgers also resigned free agent Brian Wilson, who as recently as 2010 notched a league-leading 48 saves as a member of the San Francisco Giants. With Jansen as closer and Wilson as the eighth-inning setup man, the Dodgers seem to have the back end of their bullpen in good shape. If Jansen and Wilson stay healthy and injury-free, and if neither of them struggles to the extent that they must be removed, even temporarily, from their roles, it’s unlikely that Perez will get many save opportunities with the Dodgers.
But baseball is a funny game. Going into last season, any observer could have noted that the Indians bullpen was, on paper, also strong, with Perez as closer and with Vinnie Pestano as the setup man. But each man struggled in 2013, and each spent time on the disabled list. Pestano, who became the Tribe’s closer when Perez was injured, was sent to the minors in late July to work on his mechanics. He rejoined the club in September when the roster was expanded to 40 men, but only saw action in three games that month.
Perez had a shaky season with the Tribe in 2013. His ERA went from 3.59 to 4.33, and he made headlines last June when he was arrested for having marijuana sent to his home using the name of his wife’s dog as a cover. Indians fans won’t soon forget his last two appearances with the Tribe. On Sunday, Sept. 24, at a home game, Perez entered the ninth with a 3-2 lead against the White Sox. He gave up a game-tying home run to the first batter he faced, then later gave up another home run to put the Indians in a 4-3 hole. Ten minutes later, Indians pinch-hitterJason Giambi hit a memorable two-run home run to win the game for the Tribe, and to save Perez’s bacon. Two days later, in Minnesota, Perez came on in the ninth with the Indians ahead, 6-1. Tribe manager Terry Francona certainly thought that it was safe to use Perez in a non-save situation with a five-run lead. But it was not. Perez recorded two outs, but he also gave up two singles, a triple, and a home run. He left the game with the Indians ahead 6-5 before being removed in favor of Joe Smith, who finally recorded the final out.
After this game, Perez reportedly told Francona that he didn’t want to cost the team any losses, and that he, Francona, ought not to use him as a closer any more. Francona took that advice seriously, as Perez never faced another batter as a member of the Indians. Francona did put Perez on the roster for the wild card playoff game, but that was widely regarded as a goodwill gesture rather than a vote of confidence. The game situation was such that there was no need for a closer, as the Indians lost 4-0 to the Rays.
Was Perez really THAT bad in 2013? Well, apart from that huge leap in ERA, his WHIP went from 1.127 in 2012 to 1.426, an increase of 26.5%. His base on balls ratio went up in 2013, as did his home run ratio. About 1 out of every 22 batters Perez faced hit homers off him last season. His extra base hit percentage went from 7.4 to 11.5. So yes, he really was pretty bad last season. Ironically, had Perez turned in those kind of numbers not in 2013, but in 2012, when the wheels fell off of the Indians’ season in early August, it would just have been regarded as another symptom of a team which had lost its way. The blown saves would not have hurt as much, and he would almost certainly have begun the 2013 season as closer. But his meltdown, coming as it did at a time when the Indians absolutely had to win every one of its final ten games in order to make the playoffs, sealed his fate as member of the Tribe.
The Indians travel to Los Angeles for a three-game series with the Dodgers in late June and early July. It will be interesting to see what happens if Perez gets the chance to enter a game against his old team.