Anytime there is even the mention of a trade rumor of a closer being dealt or a free agent closer receiving interest from other clubs, the internet blows up with Indians fans seemingly united behind a single demand: Trade Chris Perez already!
The arguments for trading Chris Perez are all strong. He has Super Two status and MLB Trade Rumors estimates that he will earn $7.2 million in 2013. At that level he would be the second-highest-paid player on the team, and that’s a lot of money for a small-market team to give to a relief pitcher. Many feel the Indians would improve if they turned him into prospects now and invested his money elsewhere in free agency. Others feel that the Indians could use his salary to obtain a starting pitcher with a similar salary, such as Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Chris Capuano, who is set to make $6 million in 2013 but is a free agent following the season.
I do not have any problem with the Indians trading Perez (or any other relievers) as long as the trade brings back an everyday contributor. Just last season we watched the Oakland Athletics move Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox in exchange for Josh Reddick, who went on to hit 32 homers as the A’s shocked the baseball world and won the AL West title. Not every trade ends up working against the team acquiring the proven closer—in 2010 the Tampa Bay Rays acquired Rafael Soriano from the Pirates for Jesse Chavez, and Soriano went on to lead the American League with 45 saves and helped the Rays to the AL East title—but getting an everyday player back would certainly increase the odds that it will benefit the Tribe.
One variable that inhibits a trade of Perez is the amount of closers still remaining on the free agent market, including Rafael Soriano, Francisco Rodriguez, Matt Capps, Brian Wilson, and Jose Valverde. But each player comes with questions about cost, draft compensation, or health. Perez is better than any of the free agent options, so someone is likely to bite if the Indians dangle him.
Market saturation isn’t the only thing that may give the Tribe pause to trade Perez. Another factor is the lack of a relief pitcher with closing experience on the current roster. Outside of Perez, the remaining bullpen candidates have a total of only 10 major league saves between them. The opinion of many is that the Indians have plenty of arms that can step in to the closers role specifically Vinnie Pestano who has 5 of the 10 aforementioned saves. But the one person who may not be that willing to go with an unproven pitcher in the closers role is Terry Francona
Francona is a big believer in managing to the 9th inning. In Michael Holley’s book The Red Sox Rule, Francona speaks of the value of an experienced arm in the 9th inning saying that having a closer is essential for a manager. He admits that crucial outs exist in the seventh and eighth innings too, but the closer was the light that a manager worked his way toward during the game.
Some will argue that it doesn’t matter who the closer is, and there is some validity to this. In 2012 teams that led after eight innings finished with a winning percentage of .952 by posting an incredible 983-50 record. The frequency of how many times a team gets the lead to the ninth inning is what is paramount. In 2012 the Indians held a lead after eight innings 60 times and went 53-7 in those games. They also went 51-4 when leading after seven innings and 52-8 when ahead after six frames. With an unstable starting pitching staff and an improved offense, the Indians may be best served by trying to build the best bridge to a closer as possible—and right now that closer is Chris Perez. He allows Vinnie Pestano, Joe Smith, Bryan Shaw, Matt Albers, Cody Allen, Nick Hagadone, and Blake Wood to provide valuable innings in the sixth through eighth innings.
One clue that the Indians may be close to trading Chris Perez would be if rumors begin to surface that they are interested in one of the free agents who has experience in the ninth inning. This could include Kyle Farnsworth, who has 52 career saves including leading the Rays with 25 in 2011. It could mean an incentive-laden contract with Brian Wilson, who has 171 career saves. Or it could be a Scott Boras-patented ”pillow contract” for Francisco Rodriguez, who has 294 career saves.
It would not be wise for Cleveland to remove Chris Perez from the bullpen mix if it means elevating Vinnie Pestano from his highest value role in the later innings. Based on the comments Francona has made it would seem he would prefer an established closer to build to as well. The Indians may be best served by signing an experienced closer in tandem with trading Perez even if the net dollar savings is zero for the 2013 payroll.