The Washington Nationals have signed former New York Mets left-handed starter Oliver Perez to a minor league contract.
Perez, 29, was released by the Mets earlier this week after two consecutive seasons where the lefty had posted an ERA above 6.80, and most recently a spring training where he had been chased off the mound by a chorus of boos from his own fans. The Mets released Perez despite still being on the hook for the final $12 million of his three-year $36 million contract he signed in early 2009.
Apparently the Mets figured it was a better investment to get him off the roster rather than try and forge some productivity out of his large deal. The Nats, however, will only have to pay Perez the major league minimum if he makes the club.
Perez is expected to start the season in Triple-A and could be competing for a bullpen or starting position.
While this deal was met with poor reviews by some of the Nationals fan base, the bottom line is that Perez may very well qualify as being so disliked that his acquisition is underrated.
Make no mistake, Perez has been a disaster the previous two seasons. In 2009 he went 3-4 with a 6.82 ERA and averaged 7.91 walks per nine innings. In 2010, he went 0-5 wit a 6.80 ERA and averaged 7.19 walks per nine innings. His utterly poor performance, coupled with his large contract, caused both the Mets fans and media to turn on him. Things were so bad that this spring when Perez got absolutely rocked in his debut, the New York Post reported that Oliver was already in mid-season form.
There is talent in that arm however, despite his recent failures.
In 2004 a 22-year-old Perez went 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts in only 196 innings pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates. That season, now six years ago, is what first the Mets and now the Nationals are trying to recapture. A season in which he had one of the best strikeout rates in the majors at the young age of 22. Perez has had just one season since that has come close to his 2004 performance, which came in 2007 when he went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA. The Nats are hoping however that by reconnecting with his old Pittsburgh pitching coach, Spin Williams, that he can find at least some of that old magic. It’s a stretch, but wit a measly minor league contract, it really won’t hurt to investigate.
From observing Perez, it is pretty clear that his issues are mental. One at bat he will lob a perfect home run pitch over the heart of the plate, the next he will walk someone on four pitches. Mental breakdowns on the mound are indeed difficult to fix, however they are more manageable than the chronically injured pitchers the Nats targeted this winter, such as Brandon Webb and Chris Young.
If the Nats can figure out Perez’s head, they could cash in on this deal, if not, then they hardly lose anything.