Oliver Perez inked a $2.75 million, one-year deal to resign with the Indians last Friday. It could be the last major-league deal given out to a lefty reliever this offseason, as the Mets got their guy a little earlier on Friday in Justin Wilson. The Mets were loosely linked to the 37-year-old Perez earlier and it seems appropriate to look back at his career since he was a part of the Mets of the previous decade.
Signed as a 17 year old from Mexico by the Padres at the end of the previous century, Perez made splashes in the majors as a lefty starter with an electric fastball and a high strikeout count. A year later he was traded to Pittsburgh, and the year after that in 2004 he pitched his best season with a sub-3.00 ERA and a league-leading 10.97 K/9. At just 22 he seemed like a future star: yet the future had other plans for him.
Perez started to spend some time on the DL, as well as lose velocity on that fastball. He went from the Pirates’ opening day starter in 2006 to their bullpen by June. Then to Triple-A Indianapolis.
Soon after this his Mets career began, and the fresh New York environment seemed to help him to success. Due to injuries they were forced to start him in Games 4 and 7 (yes that Game 7) of the NLCS, and the in latter game he pitched quite well. While I have different memories of that game it was a good sign that the still only 25-year-old could deliver in a Game 7.
Sure enough it helped him win a rotation job in 2007, a season in which he started 29 games and was more than respectable with a 3.56 ERA. But again progress was far from linear for Perez, and the city that once gave him a fresh start soon turned on him.
Over the years that followed, instead of leading the league in strikeout rate he led the league in walks, instead of a smiling face he had slumped shoulders, and instead of jumping over the first base line he performed a muted skip.
By 2010, his career was more similar to a 2018 Matt Harvey than a future star. After injuries and a lack of production the Mets tried to demote Perez. He had the right to refuse, and he was too proud to go back to the International League. After this drama he was put in the bullpen, and finished the year again on the disabled list. His last start in the Major Leagues he gave up 7 ER in 3.1 IP against the Marlins, and in relief in his last Mets appearance he hit a batter, gave up a steal and passed out three walks to send home the winning run in the 14th inning of a game against the Nationals. It seemed he could not go lower.
But alas with a new calendar year he did indeed sink lower, to the Harrisburg Senators of the Eastern League (AA affiliate of the Nationals). He was being paid $12 million to not play baseball for the New York Mets, and thoughts of hanging up the cleats at the end of the season surely came through his mind.
Now 30 and a free agent, Perez went back to his home and pitched in the Mexican Winter League, finally embracing and thriving in a reliever role. His velocity ticked up and his aggression combined with his goofy mechanics proved to be effective in retiring hitters.
His FIP in 46.1 2010 innings was 6.99; in 29.2 2012 innings it was 2.93.
This FIP hovered a little above 3.00 for the next three years, bouncing from the Mariners to the Diamondbacks to the Astros. He also later returned to the Nationals organization on a Major League contract and remained effective.
Last year he was a key player on the division-winning Indians, delivering scoreless appearances in 46 of his 51 games with the club and finishing with a minuscule 1.39 ERA. His season was truncated due to being stuck in the Yankees minor leagues before opting out in June.
Perez’ career has been as much of a roller coaster as any one of his starts with the Mets, and while time seemed to be unfriendly to the Met version of Perez this new version certainly seems to resist the effects of aging.
Baseball is great because of stories like Perez. He had the eye-popping physical ability and the favor of fans, lost both, but worked hard to reinvent himself and keep playing ball late into his thirties. I hope we can see him still in action when the Mets host Cleveland in August right after their lefty turns 38.