Last week, the Cleveland Indians avoided arbitration with Chris Perez by agreeing to a one-year deal worth $7.3 million. This in itself was hardly newsworthy; MLB Trade Rumors had projected Perez to earn $7.2 million this year, and it’s hardly an unprecedented wage for an established closer. But now that there’s a specific money figure attached to him for 2013 it’s worth asking: Is Perez really worth his salary to the Indians, or would they be better off trading him?
Depending on which figure you prefer, the cost of a win’s worth of production on the free agent market (if you can think of players in such abstract terms) is between $5 and $9 million. That means Perez would need to be worth between 0.8 and 1.4 wins in order to earn his keep in 2013. The major WAR (wins above replacement) systems all pegged him at around that minimum value in 2012, so at a minimum he’d need to keep up—if not build on—his breakout performance last year. As a prerequisite, then, the team has to believe that the strides Perez made last season were legitimate and there is no real risk of him regressing to his 2011 level.
But MLB teams don’t operate in a vacuum, so “replacement level” isn’t the best benchmark to which to compare Perez. The Indians head into Spring Training with a true surplus of relief options, so filling Perez’ roster spot wouldn’t be a problem. Nor would it be difficult to replace him in the closer’s role—Vinnie Pestano is the heir apparent, and for what it’s worth he has a 2.12 career ERA in save situations. So the question is, is the difference between the Tribe’s current projected bullpen and one with Pestano as closer and a young arm taking Perez’ place worth $7.3 million? Whatever your answer to that is should shape what you think Cleveland should do with Perez this winter.
If Perez is worth more than $7.3 million, it probably doesn’t make sense to trade him. That he survived the 2012 Trade Deadline without being dealt despite being a closer for a 94-loss team said something about the market for his services, as does the fact that he is still in Cleveland as we near the end of an offseason in which 16 of 20 Indians writers expected him to be traded. So if his contract has surplus value there might not be a way to improve on it.
If Perez is worth exactly $7.3 million, the idea of trading him becomes more complicated. Again thinking about players as abstract assets, if the Indians are getting $7.3 million worth of production for $7.3 million and they are offered a player who will provide more production value than he will cost—say, someone who would be worth $5 million to Cleveland but will make $4 million—then that would be a deal worth making. But it’s not worth making a deal for the sake of making a deal.
But if Perez is worth less than $7.3 million to the Indians, then they should sell him now for whatever they can get. Obviously you wouldn’t give him away for nothing, but you should be willing to. If you have an undesirable asset on your books, you should get rid of it even if you’re not fully satisfied with the return. With 29 other teams out there surely someone would offer a worthwhile return, but unless you’re swapping bad contracts you should theoretically be interested in any potential deal.
Personally, I’d say Perez will probably be worth a little less than his 2013 salary, but with the potential to earn his keep; I’d support trading Perez but I wouldn’t give him up for nothing. But regardless of where you fall on that question, your thinking should start with whether he’s worth $7.3 million to the Indians.