Is Chris Perez trying to talk his way off the Indians? If so, should the Tribe’s deep thinkers accommodate him?
Ubaldo Jimenez has been a total bust since being acquired from the Colorado Rockies in August of 2011. He has one more year before he can leave the Indians as a free agent, unless the club declines to exercise a $5.75 million option for next season. Should the front office pick up the option (there’s a $1 million buyout) or cut its losses and wave goodbye to Jimenez
These are two of the many dilemmas that will be facing the Tribe once the season ends in 2½ weeks.
Perez has been in loose-cannon mode since he fumed about fans not showing up when the team was winning early in the season. He questioned why the Browns are such popular losers, defended LeBron James and engaged in a four-letter word rant with a fan who was harassing him at Oakland Coliseum. Two weeks ago, he performed a well-executed rip job of owners Larry and Paul Dolan, plus General Manager Chris Antonetti.
It is totally irrelevant whether his views are valid — many of them are — because the fact is when an employee starts criticizing his bosses in public, it doesn’t take long before he becomes a former employee.
But baseball is a little different than the real world. Big-mouthed salesmen, bookkeepers, cashiers or gym teachers are a lot easier to replace than lockdown closers. As a major-leaguer, Perez by definition is one of the 750 best baseball players in the world. Moreover, his achievement level puts him in the top 100.
That doesn’t mean that Antonetti — or whoever sits in the GM’s chair next year — can’t find someone else to do Perez’s job. It’s a pretty good bet that Vinnie Pestano would be equally effective as a closer, but who would take over his role as setup man? Without Perez, Pestano and Joe Smith, the seventh-inning specialist, the Tribe might already have reached record levels of losses.
So does it make sense to break up the unit that has been the biggest strength of the team by far? Like almost everything in baseball, it depends.
The problem with trading Perez is that the Indians would be dealing from a position of relative weakness. That is, they wouldn’t be trying to swap Perez because a rival franchise is begging to acquire him but because ownership and the front office have a strong desire to get rid of him.
If they choose, Antonetti and the Dolans can jettison Perez for spite, but it will cost them, because they will have lowered his market value. Of course, they won’t say that if they choose to follow such a path. The spin will be that Perez is a distraction that disrupts the unity in the clubhouse. The truth is that most of his teammates probably loved what he said but weren’t about to put themselves in jeopardy by voicing their opinions.
I’m guessing that Perez is gone, not just because he has been outspoken but because he can threaten to go to arbitration and win a salary of $7 million or more, which these days seems beyond the Tribe’s means (The club wouldn’t pay Josh Willingham $7 million per annum for three seasons).
To me, that’s not the best solution to the Perez problem. The ideal resolution would be to upgrade the roster. That way, Perez probably would enjoy sticking around (assuming that currently he doesn’t, which we really don’t know) and keep his opinions to himself. But fixing the team is far more difficult than dealing with one player.
So what should the Tribe do? I understand nobody would really do this, but…..
The Dolans and Antonetti should meet with Perez and inform him that he’s not going anywhere. They also should tell him they don’t care what he says or who he says it about as long as his opinions are honestly felt (no ulterior motives), that he doesn’t get personal (don’t call anyone fat, ugly or stupid) and that he continues to do his job.
If he is chattering to get himself traded, that would defuse his strategy. Then at some point, if it were necessary, the front office could make a deal for him without losing its leverage. As for his rising salary, pay it.
Jimenez has a list of negative 2012 achievements to rival anyone in baseball, maybe all sports.
He ranks first in the American League in losses (16), wild pitches (16), allowing stolen bases (30) and pitches per inning (17.6). In addition, he owns the league’s second highest ERA (5.52), has walked the second-most batters (89) and is seventh in home runs allowed (25).
Jimenez pitched poorly after he came to the Tribe last year, and he has become even less effective in 2012. This is a guy who routinely threw 97-98 mph in the first half of 2010 who now deigns to deliver his (91-93 mph) fastball about 50 percent of the time, preferring to try and trick batters into swinging at sliders, change-ups, curveballs and who knows what else.
He has transformed himself from a feared power pitcher into a poor imitation of Greg Maddux in his declining years (and that might be unfair to Maddux). Why has Jimenez chosen this path? That is the mystery, but the most difficult trait to change is a player’s mindset, which is what manager Manny Acta, ousted pitching coach Scott Radinsky and current pitching coach Ruben Niebla have had to deal with.
Is it possible that Jimenez can turn his career around? Sure, but it’s not likely, at least not in a time frame that would give comfort to the Indians.
After 2013, Jimenez can flee on the wings of free agency. But what team would sign a pitcher who is among the league leaders in practically every undesirable category? Maybe that will be his motivation to change. It’s called a contract drive.
That’s just about the only thing the Tribe has to hang its hat on. The best the front office can hope for is that Jimenez has a good first half, so the GM can trade him before he has a chance to go in the tank again.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.