Let’s get one thing clear: the Tigers brass hasn’t said or done anything this offseason to suggest that they are less than perfectly content with the relief options currently in the organization and to let top prospect Bruce Rondon duke it out with a handful of other contenders in spring training to win the closer job for 2013. I’m a bit less bullish on Rondon than many others seem to be.
There are – as Tony Paul mentioned today at the Detroit News – a lot of guys that the Tigers could go after if they so chose. However, past the extremely expensive Rafael Soriano, there aren’t really any guys that you’d think of as sure things. Guys hoping to bounce back from uninspiring seasons, or prove that great 2012s weren’t flukes. Other guys coming back from injury. Of the many, many options that the Tigers could pursue – my chosen one would be Indians closer Chris Perez.
Why? Firstly Perez is good. He struck out more than a batter per inning last year (and walked only 2.5 per 9). He notched 39 saves in 2012 for a team that didn’t have that many late-inning leads and he has a career ERA of 3.23. He’s also only 27. There were big red flags after his 2011 – he saved a lot of games and had a solid ERA but his velocity and strikeout rate dropped significantly (a very low BABIP made up for that). But… he didn’t luck his way into a good 2012, his velocity returned and his control improved. His K rate jumped above his career average and he even started getting more ground balls. He isn’t exactly Mariano Rivera, but I’d expect numbers just as good from Perez as Soriano or 2010-2011 Jose Valverde.
Secondly, the Indians should be motivated to sell. The Indians seem to have become aware that – as with the Tigers in the late Randy Smith ERA – the Indians most recent attempt to build from within has been a flop. Since they can’t hold on to their valuable pieces forever, they’re prepared to reboot – as they should be. Shin-Soo Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera and a few others are getting pricey for an Indians team that does not win – but they should have enough market value that the Indians are going to spend time trying to get the best possible deal. Perez doesn’t have the same kind of value – because the arbitration process seems to be very friendly to closers by calibrating their pay against the rare closer contract from a desperate owner or the rare owner who doesn’t believe in the new orthodoxy that you shouldn’t pay for saves. He got $4.5 million in arbitration last year and he’ll be getting a raise this year. MLBtraderumors predicts a raise for Perez to $7.2 million for 2013. With the glut of second-tier closing options on this year’s market that does a lot of damage to Perez’ trade value – but the Indians also have very little incentive to hold onto him. He’s coming off a good season, he’s under team control for another 2 years and he’ll be due another raise for 2014. He isn’t going to have any more value in the future than he does now. He has already been vocally critical of Indians fans and Indians management and for a team that is planning on trading away Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Justin Masterson and forfeiting the 2013 season Perez and the press are going to be a distraction if he isn’t dealt first (or quickly after). It’s hard to say exactly what it would take to get Perez away from Cleveland, but I’d be surprised if it took more than a pre-arb reliever and a second-tier prospect (let’s say – in a purely hypothetical case – Brayan Villarreal and Hernan Perez). I’d consider that well worth it, since whether Bruce Rondon is going to close or not I’d still say the Tigers should be prepared to give him a spot somewhere in the 2013 ‘pen. Why not J.J. Putz or Joel Hanrahan? Simply put, those two teams have much higher aspirations for 2013 than does Cleveland, which could make an expensive closer seem like a worthwhile luxury.
Thirdly, Perez is an Indian. I remember – as I am guessing do you – how obnoxious Indians fans got during that brief (historically speaking) window when Cleveland actually had a competitive team and the Tigers were laughingstocks. I get a lot of enjoyment out of watching the Indians lose. I also get a lot of enjoyment out of watching former Indians beat current Indians – in equal and opposite proportion to the anguish of seeing Travis Fryman beat the Tigers. Seeing the Tribe lose to Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez is nice. Adding more Indians to the mix can only make it better.
Honestly the deal I’d love to see (with the Indians) would be one like the Red Sox and Dodgers or Marlins and Blue Jays made. Lets get Chris Perez, but also Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Masterson and Asdrubal Cabrera. That would obviously come at a pretty steep price, but sending all 5 of the Tigers top prospects (Jake Thompson, Avisail Garcia, Nick Castellanos, Bruce Rondon and Danry Vazquez – or Casey Crosby) might get it done. Jhonny Peralta and Rick Porcello could then be flipped to recover some organizational depth, Dirks would become backup to Torii Hunter. Me? I’d do it. I’d be concerned about the team’s ability to compete past 2014, but I’m already concerned about the team’s ability to compete past 2014. You want to go all in? That’s all in – at a dollar price point quite a bit lower than chasing guys like Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.