Chris Perez’s Value and Comments Could Create Offseason Trade

After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. Today we analyze a potential trade piece for the Tribe this winter.

There were few bright spots in the Indians 2012 season. One of those was All-Star closer Chris Perez. He had a very solid year that increased his value across the league, but self-inflicted drama and a questionable attitude left him with a black mark with some fans, and maybe the organization.

Perez finished a good 2012 campaign with a 0-4 record and a 3.59 ERA. His save total, however, hit a high point in his career. For a portion of the year, he held the league lead, and his stellar first half earned him a second All-Star appearance. After blowing the save in the first game of the season, Perez converted 24 consecutive saves in route to a career-high 39 saves on the year. His 9.3 K/9in was way up from the 5.9 K/9in he put up in 2011, and he posted a career high 3.69 K/BB.

The front office is well aware of the success Perez has enjoyed here in Cleveland.

“I think with Chris it starts that he’s a very talented closer that has had a lot of success over the last two years.” General Manager Chris Antonetti said at his year end press conference.

Unfortunately, comments Perez made throughout the season overshadowed his on-the-field performance. The negativity began when he got booed at home early on in the season. He called out the fans for not, in his view, for not properly supporting the team after a 2-0 victory in May.

“I’m not calling out the fans.” Perez said, “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.’ You see their true colors.”

This put a bad taste in the mouth of many Clevelanders. It didn’t end there; as he went on to blame the fans for the team’s inability to sign free agents.

“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.”

It continued by ridiculing the Cleveland Browns, then an altercation with a fan in Oakland and the bashing of Indians’ ownership. It came to a close when he made comments seemingly blaming much of the season on former Manager Manny Acta.

“The Manny that you see and the Manny that we see are different guys, for whatever reason,” Perez said on October 2. “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 he did it couple weeks too late. We didn’t get it at all last year. Last year we only had two speeches from him. One on opening day and one on the last day of the year… I know it sounds kind of cliche, but the team kind of follows the manager, good or bad. If the manager has no activity out there (arguing a call), why would the team (get fired up) if you’re not seeing your leader do that?”

Antonetti did not condone the comments, but he did his best to keep the situation on a professional level.

“I think at the root of all his comments is his profound desire to win,” Antonetti said. “He cares deeply about being part of a winning team and being part of a winning culture.”

Antonetti spoke with Perez for an hour during their end of the season meeting, where Perez expressed a desire to remain an Indian.

“He articulated his desire to be an Indian and to remain an Indian and I’ll rely on the conversation moving forward,” Antonetti said.

“I’m here, I’m here for at least two more years,” Perez said. “I have no basis to stand up and ask for a trade or anything. They can do whatever they want with me, they control me for two more years at least.”

Perez is right, the Indians can do whatever they want with him for the next two seasons while he is under team control through 2014. Perez and the organization both claim he is 100% committed to winning, but since the Indians lost 94 games in 2012, the top of the standings could be more than a season or two away. To compound the situation, Perez is projected to make between $7-8 million in salary arbitration this winter. That’s a lofty price for a player who only takes the field for the final inning, especially in a franchise on a fixed budget.

Despite his desire to remain in Cleveland, the idea that he could be a trade chip is a very real possibility. As far as closers go, they are a fairly available commodity. The Indians have their very own option waiting in the wings in Vinnie Pestano. Pestano is under team control through 2016 and will make approximately $500k in 2013. He could slide into the closer role with Esmil Rogers, Joe Smith, and Cody Allen falling in behind him.

If the Indians do choose to trade their outspoken closer, they could look for a package of prospects or they will get a young Major League player in return; someone to compliment the young hitters like Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana.

Some teams have made a small business out of developing closers, and trading them off for prospects, or Major League talent. The Oakland Athletics have done this for the last decade, shipping off closers like Billy Koch, Andrew Bailey, Ocatvio Dotel, Keith Foulke, and Huston Street. None of whom really performed up to expectation after leaving Oakland. The Athletics were able to cash in on the perceived value of these closers and the Indians have the opportunity to do the same with Perez. This off season, the front office is very open to trade possibilities.

“There are going to be more opportunities via trade than free agency just because of the nature of the guys available,” Antonetti said.

Some possible trade partners may be the Boston Red Sox. Their leading closer, Alfredo Aceves, struggled to a 2-10 record with a 5.36 ERA. The New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Miami Marlins also had serious closer problems.

An Indians fan could make the argument that Perez is the team’s best player, but how happy will their best player be if he can’t get on the field in 2013 while the Indians struggle through the first year of new Manager Terry Francona and a rebuilding process? Perez has been clear on his desires to win now, in the prime of his career. His desires and prime could build his trade value to a point where Cleveland has no choice but to trade The Firestarter before reporting to Goodyear, Arizona, for the best interest of the franchise moving forward.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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