Friday, January 18, 2013


Chris Perez
Today, the Cleveland Indians announced that they had avoided arbitration with closer Chris Perez, settling on a 1-year $7.3 million contract. This was Perez's second year of arbitration, having qualified as a "super 2" player. MLB players with 3 years of service in the big leagues become eligible for arbitration. Arbitration lasts for 3 seasons, unless the player in question has almost three years of service (say 2 year 200 days) at the end of a season. In this case, MLB awards them "super 2" status, which allows the player to be eligible for arbitration for 4 years instead of the usual 3. Some teams have tried to use this to keep young players under team control for extra time, but the league recently changed the necessary dates of service time to make it more difficult for teams to exploit the apparent loophole.

Perez, a right-handed bullpen pitcher has served as the Indians closer since 2010. Ever since conforming Perez to the ninth inning role combined with his "super 2" status, has made Perez ever-increasingly expensive. Relievers are overvalued in the current MLB market; sometimes more often by arbitrators who weight saves as more important than true markers of success for bullpen pitchers. This combination has led to Perez's new 1-year contract of $7.3 million, which equates to about 1.33 fWins. Perez is young, and entering what can be the most fruitful years of a pitcher's career, meaning that he should be able to pitch up to, or at least close to, his annual average value. Since becoming the closer, Perez has accrued 1.6 fWins in 3 seasons for an average Fwins/season of 0.5 fWins. 0.5 Fwins is worth only $2.75 million, which is 38% of what he will be paid this year. Well, if it's so obvious that Perez won't be worth his 2013 contract based on his past performance, so is he set to improve to the point that he will?

As you can see from the graph to the left, Perez's strikeout numbers have fluctuated ending in a K/9 that ranked 51st amongst all 2012 qualified relievers. On a different note, Perez has consistently lowered his BB/9 numbers to end the season 39th amongst all relief pitchers. Essentially, Perez has been a decent bullpen pitcher, one that has improved in some areas, but not enough to make him one of the 20 best relief pitchers in Baseball. His numbers might cause some to wonder why he has been dubbed as the pitcher to throw in supposedly the most crucial situation for the Indians late in games. Maybe if he performed exceptionally well in the clutch, it might justify his AAV as well as his standing in the Cleveland bullpen. Unfortunately for Perez, his WPA/LI, which measures how well a player performs in high leverage situations in comparison to an average leverage situation, and Perez hasn't performed exceptionally well. His WPA/LI has been below 1.0 every year of his career, not a good sign, seeing as the top echelon of relievers (30 best), has a WPA/LI over 1.0 with names like Rodney, Chapman, and Kimbrel all hovering around 2.0 or greater WPA/LI.

Given that we have now proven that Perez's $7.3 million salary is quite inflated, even assuming some improvement, the next question to ask is why have the Indians not considered trading Perez. The Indians, while improving their status this offseason, haven't made significant enough improvements to put them in the discussion for possible playoff team. This fact only adds to my confusion as to why Indians GM Chris Antonetti didn't make a deal to move Perez before coming to a 1-year deal. Now, it is completely possible that the Indians decide to trade Perez now, after setting a definite price tag to him, but that possibility is logically outweighed by the chance that that the Indians go into 2013 with Perez in their bullpen. Given Perez's soft numbers, it's possible that Antonetti wants to wait and see if Perez's stock rises before flipping him so as to receive the best possible package in return.

According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, as of January 6th, the Indians were still considering trade offers for Perez, but wouldn't budge unless they could receive a similar package to the one the team swindled for outfielder Shin-Soo Choo. Choo brought back outfielder Drew Stubbs and pitcher Trevor Bauer. Given that the Indians have set an asking price, maybe we should take a look at recent trades for relievers of similar or better caliber to get a sense of what the Indians might expect in return for Perez. So far this offseason two comparable relievers were moved. The Red Sox traded Jerry Sands, Stolmy Pimentel, and Mark Melancon to the Pirates in exchange for Joel Hanrahan and Brock Holt. Hanrahan represents the comparable reliever. Most thought that this trade broke down to Hanrahan for Melancon, which pundits quickly dubbed a victory for the Pirates. Hanrahan had a very lucky season last year given his peripherals while Melancon fought off a tough start to put together solidly underrated numbers. Melancon is younger and under team control for more years, making him slightly more valuable than Hanrahan. The other trade this offseason was between the Astros and Rockies. The Astros dealt reliever Wilton Lopez to the Rockies for minor league pitchers Alex White and Alex Gillingham. Both prospects are starting pitchers, each with enough deficiencies to label them both as projects. So, so far we have one reliever exchanged for another reliever of slightly better standing and the 2nd acquired for 2 project prospects. These aren't lofty hauls.

During the 2012 season 2 other "big time" relievers swapped teams, Jonathan Broxton and Brandon League. League went to LA for 2 prospects, one an outfielder with some upside and the other a relief pitcher who made double A last season, but struggles with his control. Broxton was moved in exchange for Donnie Joseph and J.C. Sulbaran. Josepth is a lefty specialist out of the bullpen who has put up very good numbers in AA and AAA, leading the Royals to put him on their 40-man roster heading into 2013. Sulbaran projects as a 4 or 5 starter who has the build to be an innings eater and the numbers to back it up. Both Broxton and League were under less team control than Perez, but both performed better than Perez prior to being traded. In 2011, 3 comparable relievers were traded midseason and 2 in the offseason, all yielding similar packages in return with the exception of the swap between the Rangers and the Blue Jays. In that deal, which was made in the offseason, the Blue Jays sent catcher Mike Napoli to the Rangers in exchange for reliever Frank Francisco. This was just prior to Napoli's power surge, making the deal very skewed in Texas' favor.

Overall, this analysis of previous trades gives us a sense of Perez's realistic trade value. Teams that are in the market for Perez's services include the San Francisco Giants, Detroit Tigers, Toronto Blue Jays, and possibly the Cincinnati Reds. On the other hand, by the time the 2013 trade deadline roles around, that list may have grown to almost twice the size. Simple economics teach us that it is best to buy low and sell high. So, the Indians want to wait until Perez is at his highest demand before flipping him, which might be now, or could be in 6 months. At the moment I'd be surprised if the Indians could get more than a similar deal to the one that Astros got for Wilton Lopez. Lopez was a far better reliever than Perez in 2012, but he comes with some injury concerns (Just ask the Phillies), so his stock was about the same as Perez's is now. I expect the Indians would much rather receive one top 6 prospect than 2 high ceiling/low floor prospects like the Astros got for Lopez. This leads me to believe that Perez, if moved, won't call a new city home until June or July. Recently, with the Nationals' signing of Rafael Soriano, the pattern of NL teams polishing their rosters by stacking their bullpens has emerged. This advent has made Perez look more and more like a very likely future trade candidate, so watch out for teams like the Pirates, Phillies, and Reds to come calling looking for relief help midseason.

In the offseason, MLB lovers grasp onto anything to quell their desire for Baseball given the lack of games being played. This includes looking for a trade wherever possible, and over-analyzing every move made from the flashiest to the most diminutive. Anyone who works in an MLB front office has to be immune to such temptations because oftentimes it is not skill, guile, or competitiveness that leads to the best results, but good timing. MLB General Managers and their staff's have to act as stock traders, timing the market at the precise time so as to cash in for the best possible return. Antonetti and the Indians seem to be waiting patiently, asking for too much and fending off lesser offers for Perez now, hoping to time the market perfectly later to and get the high caliber prospect they are looking for in return for Perez. Such patience should be admired, as some GM's due to pressure from all sorts of sources often jump the gun and make a hasty trade that backfires with ease. The Mariners recent trade for Michael Morse marks a good example of such a move. The Indians know Perez is not worth the money they are paying him right now, but in due time, he may reap benefits they hadn't even though possible.

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