Perez a Strong Candidate to Be Part of Trade Discussions

Cleveland Indians backup catcher Roberto Perez was pressed into extended playing time during the first half of the 2015 season as starter Yan Gomes was out with a sprained MCL.

Perez showed that he may not have the hitting ability of the 2014 Silver Slugger Gomes, but can hold his own as well as or better than any catcher in the league.

Before the 2014 season the Indians identified Gomes as a core player and gave him a six-year, $23 million contract extension. He is locked up for the next few years and should be able to be the 20-homer, 80-RBI hitter Cleveland needs in the middle of its lineup with a return to health in 2016. Gomes, in other words, is locked in as the Tribe’s starter and should be.

A healthy Gomes hits as well as any catcher in baseball and is solid behind the plate. He is good with the pitching staff.

The Indians are lucky. They have two solid catchers. Perez and his .228 2015 batting average will not blow people away. However, he did hit seven home runs in 70 games (184 at bats), showing he does have some pop in his bat.

Fielding-wise, he threw out 8-of-22 runners attempting to steal a base. That was good for a 36% clip. To put that into perspective, that was well above the league average of 27% for catchers attempting to throw out would-be base-swipers.

Perez also had a fairly clean .993 fielding percentage, just shy of the .994 average for his position. If he could play a fuller season, something like 130 games, Perez could be an even better hitter and fielder. Anyone would be better at their craft with more time to polish it.

That brings us to the Tribe’s offseason. The Indians need to get stronger offensively and add depth to the bullpen. Bullpen depth on the free agent market is not very expensive. However, if the Indians are going to upgrade a starting lineup to get in line with a rotation that is already playoff quality, that will take money.

The Indians, given the small market size and the disappointing history they have had when they have dipped their feet into singing expensive free agents, are not expected to do anything real flashy on the free agent front this hot stove season.

Where the Indians can improve the offense is trading from depth. Perez certainly represents depth at catcher and would have to be viewed as a tradable commodity.

A true, everyday catcher is hard to find in Major League Baseball. There are not a lot of really good ones out there. There would surely be a number of teams who would view Perez as an upgrade at the position and be willing to part with players who represent position depth in their own organizations.

Given that Perez is not a flashy player and not a guy who has numbers that jump off of the page, it is hard to say exactly what kind of player the Indians would get in return in a one-on-one trade.

Perez, contract-wise, would certainly be interesting for teams. He is not eligible for arbitration until 2018 or free agency until 2021. That means the 26-year-old backstop is under team control into his 30s. That is valuable to a lot of teams.

General managers who take the defensive approach to a catcher would also love Perez. He is a throw-back catcher, to a time when the position was to field and handle the pitching staff first and hit second. Perez would fit in nicely with about half the teams in the league.

It comes down to what kind of player the Indians are looking to get in return when constructing a trade. Perez could help get an outfielder – that and third base are the team’s biggest needs – with Major League experience. Cleveland would not get a big bopper in return for Perez alone. The Tribe would be more likely to get someone who hits in the .260 range, but may have promise for more.

If the Indians are looking to get a big-time player in a deal, they could package Perez with one of their surplus of starting pitchers. Packaging Perez and someone like Trevor Bauer or Carlos Carrasco together could bring something interesting to Cleveland. It all depends on how much the organization wants to part with this offseason.

Of course, considering the depth at catcher, the team could trade Gomes. Perez would be more likely because of the club’s aforementioned need for offense. Gomes gives the Tribe more the skill-set it needs than Perez at the position, right now.

One drawback in all of this is what the Indians do if they do end up making a deal that involves Perez. All of a sudden a position of depth goes to a position that would lack it a bit.

if the Indians do not trade away first baseman Carlos Santana this winter, as has been speculated they could, he could be an emergency backstop. Santana was Cleveland’s primary catcher from 2011-2013. In the last two seasons, however, he has only played 11 games there, none this past season.

The only other full-time catcher on Cleveland’s 40-man roster is Tony Wolters. He has some promise, but has never played above Double-A. It is doubtful he is ready to make the jump to the Majors, even in a backup roll.

Francisco Mejia is an intriguing player on the farm. However, he caught at Lake County this past season and is still a couple years away from the big leagues.

Trading Perez, while bringing in a player of need, would also hurt the Indians to some degree. If Gomes were to get injured again, the drop off to his replacement would be bigger, most likely, than it was in 2015. A Perez trade would probably trigger the Tribe to go get a veteran free agent catcher who has experience in the Majors but would not be an expensive addition.

Certainly trading from depth at any spot of the roster destroys said depth. That is why Cleveland needs to make sure it is trading for a position of strong need, such as outfield or third base, in any deal. Management needs to be diligent in identifying someone who is more likely than not to help out the lineup.

The best way for the Indians to get their everyday lineup up to speed with their strong pitching staff is with shrewd trading. Perez is definitely a name that can be dangled. In Cleveland, he is the team’s backup. Someone else may very well view him higher and the Indians could reap the rewards in strengthening a weak spot on the club.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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