A frustratingly quiet offseason for the Cleveland Indians on the free agent market ended as the club spent some extra cash to bring back free agent left-hander Oliver Perez.
According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, Perez’s one-year deal will pay him $2.5 million. A vesting option at $2.75 million for the 2020 season will kick in if Perez appears in 55-59 games in 2019, and that figure could rise to $3 million if he tops the 60-appearance threshold.
The option would be contingent on Perez passing an offseason physical as well.
Perez, 37, spent half of 2018 with the Indians while helping stabilize a bullpen that, at the time, was a disaster. After being cut by the Cincinnati Reds at the end of spring training, he signed with the New York Yankees and opened the season with their Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre affiliate. Working for the first time at the Triple-A level since 2012, he put up sufficient, but not necessarily strong, numbers, going 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, a high hit rate of 10.9 per nine innings, and a lower than his norm mark of 9.6 strikeouts per nine. He was given his release by the Yankees on June 1 without getting a call up from the parent club and the next day, he inked a big league deal with the Tribe.
With an opportunity to pitch in his 16th big league campaign, Perez shined. He made 51 appearances for Cleveland when the bullpen was at its lowest point, decimated by injuries and ineffectiveness. He posted a minute 1.39 ERA for the season, added a 0.74 WHIP, and led the club with 15 holds. He allowed just 17 hits in 32 1/3 innings of work and three of his seven walks came via intentional pass. He kept opposing hitters off balance, striking out 43 of the 120 batters that he faced, while limiting them to a .155 average for the season. Just three of the 17 hits that he allowed on the year dropped in for extra bases. In 46 of his 51 outings, he held the opposition scoreless.
While Perez was strong against left-handers as would be expected in the splits (.194/.215/.274 with 12 hits, one walk, and 22 strikeouts in 65 plate appearances against him), his work against right-handers was eye-opening as well. He walked more batters (six, three intentionally) than he allowed hits (five) to them while striking out 21 of those 55 batters. Right-handed hitters combined to post a .104/.218/.104 slash and failed to get an extra base hit against him. For the year, he allowed just a .132 average to opposing hitters when batting with men on base and a .129 average when those runners were in scoring position. He limited them to a .115/.172/.115 slash in 18 games of action in high leverage situations.
He helped clean up the messy bullpen with a great first half showing in his first month and a half with the club. In his first 21 games, he allowed just one run and five hits with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings of work. He remained effective throughout the second half, giving up four earned runs on 12 hits with 30 strikeouts in 30 games (19 1/3 innings of work). The bulk of that damage came in the final month of the campaign with the AL Central Division long since secured.
“[Perez] really helped stabilize our bullpen at a point in time when we really needed it,” shared Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti of the signing, “and he pitched extraordinarily well for us against both left- and right-handed hitters and became a very reliable option for [Terry Francona] as the season progressed.
The Mexican-born left-hander entered the pro game in 1999 when he signed as an amateur free agent with the San Diego Padres. He was a starter throughout the first half of his career, which included stops with the Padres, Pittsburgh Pirates, and New York Mets. His numbers slipped during his Mets tenure after signing a three-year, $36 million deal, and he spent several stints on the disabled list with right knee issues. He did not pitch in the Majors in 2011, working solely in the minors for the Washington Nationals.
Since returning to the Majors in 2012, Perez has worked exclusively as a reliever. He spent two seasons with the Seattle Mariners and parts of the next two with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was traded to the Houston Astros prior to the 2015 waivers trade deadline and returned to the Nationals for the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
Perez gives the Indians three left-handed options in the bullpen as he rejoins Brad Hand and Tyler Olson on Terry Francona’s pitching staff. The right-handed options are not as defined, as returning candidates Dan Otero, Adam Cimber, Jon Edwards, Nick Goody, Neil Ramirez, and recent additions A.J. Cole and Jefry Rodriguez round out the options, with 40-man roster members Cody Anderson, Chih-Wei Hu, and Ben Taylor and non-roster invitees Justin Grimm, James Hoyt, Brooks Pounders, and Josh Smith also in the mix.
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