Oliver Perez, Somehow A Potential Bargain

Oliver Perez has had a pretty fascinating career path, and while I hardly need to bring you through his entire history, it’d be remiss to start an article about him without at least touching on his backstory briefly. Drafted by the Padres, he was shipped to Pittsburgh in the Brian Giles trade, where he put up one shining age-22 season — 4.4 WAR, 239 strikeouts in 2004 — before posting an ERA north of 5.00 in four of the next six seasons.  Most of that time was spent with the Mets, where he was so awful (other than a solid 2007) that they cut him just before camp ended in 2011, despite still owing him $12 million for the season. Perez spent some time in the minors for Washington that year, never appearing in the bigs, and considering how long it had been since that wonderful 2004, it wasn’t hard to think of his career as being over.

Except, it wasn’t. Perez resurfaced as a reliever in Seattle in 2012 and was good enough that it shocked our resident Mariners fans into writing posts titled “Oliver Perez Is Good Now. Seriously.” (Cameron, 2012) and “Oliver Perez. Pitcher You Want.(Sullivan, 2013). His reputation was so terrible that the mere fact that he was in the bigs and adding any kind of value was seen as a jaw-dropping event.

Now Perez is a free agent, and two weeks before camp starts, the silence around him has been deafening. If you look at his player tag on MLB Trade Rumors, there hasn’t been a single media mention of him since December 4, when Washington Post beat writer Adam Kilgore tweeted that the Nationals, Mariners, and Padres all “remain in on him.” Prior to that, it was a November 15 mention, also about the Nats. And… that’s it. In over three months, two mere mentions.

Maybe that’s not so surprising, because he’s a non-closing lefty reliever in a market where Ervin Santana, Ubaldo Jimenez, Stephen Drew and so on still exist, and just because MLBTR hasn’t picked up on any further news, it doesn’t mean that no conversations have been had.

Still, the complete lack of public noise around Perez is notable, because he compares pretty favorably to this winter’s two big lefty relief free agents, Boone Logan ($16.5m over three years) and J.P. Howell ($11.25m over two years, with a vesting clause that could push it to $17.25m):

2012-13 IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 ERA FIP WAR
Howell 112.1 7.69 3.61 0.72 2.56 3.74 0.3
Logan 94.1 11.26 3.91 1.24 3.53 3.73 0.8
Perez 82.2 10.67 3.92 0.76 3.13 3.13 1.3

Now, that’s leaving out some obvious qualifiers. Logan (29) and Howell (31) are each slightly younger than Perez (32), and tougher on lefties, and Perez had a really difficult second half, maintaining his strikeout rate but suffering through control problems and a .444 BABIP. (Which is basically a case study for “losing team going nowhere should have traded non-elite reliever with history of inconsistency when they had the chance.”) That said, no one’s suggesting that Perez should be getting a large multi-year deal like Howell and Logan did. At this point, I’m wondering if he’s even going to get a major league deal, or if someone is going to end up with a relative steal of a minor league invite.

You can say it’s a steal, because over the last two years, Perez’ contact rate has been within a percentage point of Max Scherzer, Glen Perkins, and Jesse Crain. His swinging-strike percentage is basically identical to Joe Nathan and better than that of Michael Wacha or Clayton Kershaw. His first-pitch strike percentage is the same as Hisashi Iwakuma, Lance Lynn, and Trevor Rosenthal. None of those stats alone make for a successful pitcher, as I should hardly need to explain by the mere fact that Kershaw’s  name is included here, but they do make for a guy who has been doing something right on the mound, especially notable since for so many years he was doing nothing right on the mound.

Really, with Logan and Howell off the board and lesser pitchers like Jose Mijares already locked up, the market for remaining lefty relievers is all but finished. There’s Mike Gonzalez, who is 36 and coming off the worst year of his career, or Rich Hill, who is 34, coming off a 6.28 ERA, and with all of 70.1 innings in the last four seasons. In the meantime, those reported suitors have gone in other directions.  The Nationals traded for Jerry Blevins and may yet find a way to push Ross Detwiler into the bullpen. The Mariners already have Charlie Furbush and Lucas Luetge, and signed Joe Beimel to a minor league deal. The Padres  just traded for Alex Torres after previously adding Patrick Schuster as a Rule 5 pick, and may have either Eric Stults or Cory Luebke in the bullpen if either doesn’t make the rotation.

That doesn’t mean other teams couldn’t be interested that we don’t know about, but it does mean that the teams reportedly sniffing around him may have moved on. You get it, really. You look at Perez’ past, and his disappointing second half, and the fact that his “rebirth” is really all of about 80 innings of baseball. But he’s also a lefty, a not particularly old one, and someone who appears to have found himself in the bullpen. I can’t say with a straight face that I’d rather him over Logan in 2014 if all conditions were equal. That said, conditions aren’t equal, and someone will end up with Perez for something like $15 million less than Colorado is paying Logan. For approximately 10 percent of the cost or less, Perez seems like he could approximate a sizable portion of Logan’s value. That means it’s been a surprisingly quiet winter for Ollie… too quiet.

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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.

16 Responses to “Oliver Perez, Somehow A Potential Bargain”

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  1. gareth says:

    I would say the indians would be a good landing spot as they lost smith, hill, Albers and Perez this offseason. However they acquired mark repzynski from the cardinals near theend of last season and traded drew stubbs for josh outman, so the need for a lefty in their pen may not be as pressing.

    The indians did have a nice year of minor league deals working out for them in 2013 (kazmir, Giambi, raburn). It wouldnt hurt to add add ollie perez to the list of 2014 lottery tickets that include shaun Marcum, David aardsma, jeff francouer, nyger morgan and scott Atchison.

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  2. Ivan Grushenko says:

    I wonder if the A’s considered him before signing the great Eric O’Flaherty to a $7M deal

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  3. jwise224 says:

    His inability to dominate same-handed batters is hurting his market. It’s tough to be a non-dominate lefty that pitches like an average righty reliever. Still, he’s worth more attention than he’s gotten to this point and I’d love to see someone give the guy a chance. If someone can bring him to camp as a NRI, that’s a bargain.

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  4. jim S. says:

    Totally agree. I saw Perez often last season and he looked better than either Howell or Logan. Only thing I can figure is that there is an off-the-field issue that we don’t know about.

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  5. Ruki Motomiya says:

    “Which is basically a case study for “losing team going nowhere should have traded non-elite reliever with history of inconsistency when they had the chance.””

    Would they have even gotten anything for him?

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  6. Pennsy says:

    I have been lobbying for Perez to the Nats since the off-season began. He could be a dynamite lefty long man.

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  7. jayman4 says:

    I have wanted him reunited with Balsley in San Diego, but given that the Padres never come up in discussions with him and have seen him when he was good, I assume they see something they want to stay away from.

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  8. Dave S says:

    With the putrescence they called their “bullpen” last year, and the limited fundage due to various whackadoodles contract commitments, you’d think the Phils might take a shot on him.

    I guess he’s not old enough yet.

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    • Aaron Trammell says:

      You can’t really use that joke when it comes to their bullpen. Most of their bullpen started last year in AAA.

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      • Dave S says:

        Honestly, getting to see how some of the younger guys was one of the few bright spots. But you gotta admit, overall, the bullpen was generally a cluster, and maybe a decent (cheap) older arm might be a useful guy to have around. Assuming they care to be somewhat respectable this year, and that appears to be the general plan.

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      • Dave S says:

        …how some of the younger guys PLAYED…

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  9. Paul says:

    He did suffer a pretty big velocity drop last year and combined with his age, I can see why a team might be hesitant to sign him for much money. That said, I agree that he is probably underrated based on his history.

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  10. Justin says:

    I’d love to see the Brewers pick him up, hopefully he can perform for the first half so he becomes a decent trade chip at the deadline.

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  11. Hurtlockertwo says:

    I would think that a lifetime negative WAR (even with his 4 WAR season) would scare a lot of people off. Then again, Ryan Vogelsong was resurrected from the scrap heap too.

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    • Pennsy says:

      Vogelsong and Perez were rotation mates in 2004 when Perez’s career took off and Vogelsong saw his last starting opportunity in MLB until 2011. Baseball is a small world.

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