Indians release former closer Perez
Right-hander posted 124 saves in parts of five seasons with club
CLEVELAND -- For all the noise that accompanied Chris Perez throughout his time with the Indians, the former closer's tenure in Cleveland has come to a quiet end.
The Indians announced on Thursday that Perez has been released, allowing the closer to enter this offseason's free-agent pool. By parting ways with Perez now, Cleveland has effectively ended speculation that the club was planning on either trading or cutting the closer in the days leading up to the Dec. 2 non-tender deadline.
The Tribe's need for a new closer was apparent at the end of this past season. Now, it is official.
"We worked through our offseason planning process in our meetings," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said, "and we made the determination that Chris wouldn't be a fit on our roster next year. Once we got clarity on that, we felt it made sense just to move forward with the transaction now rather than wait."
Perez has never been a stranger to creating headlines. On and off the field, the pitcher stirred things up with his actions and his words (or lack thereof, as was the case during a three-month media blackout this year). More important for Cleveland was his performance on the mound, and Perez labored to the point of losing his role as the club's stopper by the final month this past season.
In 54 games for Cleveland this year, the 28-year-old Perez posted a career-high 4.33 ERA to go along with 25 saves and a 1.43 WHIP, which was also the worst mark of his career. Over the final two months of the season, the right-hander posted a 7.52 ERA with 10 saves in 13 chances, and allowed a .345 opponents' average before being removed as the closer on the final weekend of the regular season.
After Perez lost that job, the Indians went with a closer-by-committee during their march to the American League Wild Card Game, which they lost to Tampa Bay on Oct. 2 in Cleveland's first taste of the postseason since 2007.
"Chris was still a very meaningful contributor to our teams over the last few years, including this past season," Antonetti said. "Obviously, he had a tough stretch at the end of the year, but no player goes through their entire career without having any speed bumps. I think Chris will respond well and be an effective pitcher for his next team."
Playing a large role in Cleveland's decision was Perez's salary, which projected to jump to around $9 million through arbitration after he earned $7.3 million last season.
"He was arbitration-eligible again this year and he was due for another raise," Antonetti said. "We had to make some determinations of where our team needs are and how we're going to allocate our resources moving forward."
In parts of five seasons with the Indians, Perez collected 124 saves, marking the third-most in franchise history. Across the 2010-12 seasons, he made two All-Star teams, saved at least 36 games twice and fashioned a 2.84 ERA with 98 saves.
Perez was hindered by a right shoulder injury during Spring Training and the issue flared again in late May, resulting in a month-long stint on the disabled list. When Perez rejoined the team in late June, he stopped doing on-the-record interviews with local reporters after being upset by some things that were written in the wake of his misdemeanor drug charge in early June.
During the 2012 season, Perez created controversy with his outspokenness. The pitcher upset some fans by publicly questioning their loyalty and later in the season, he spoke out against Cleveland's ownership. Antonetti was asked if Perez's antics over the years were a distraction to the ballclub.
"No," Antonetti said. "Obviously, there were some issues that we needed to handle over the course of the last couple years, but in the end we won 92 games [in 2013] with him serving as closer for the majority of the season."
What is not clear now is which pitcher will serve as the closer for 2014.
The Indians have a pair of in-house closer candidates in Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw, but setup man Joe Smith -- like Perez now -- is a free agent this winter. That means Cleveland might look into re-signing Smith, who could be an option for the ninth-inning job, or the club might explores trades or free agency to add to its alternatives for the vacancy at closer.
Antonetti also did not rule out looking at internal options such as Vinnie Pestano or Matt Capps.
"I'm confident in the guys we have internally," Antonetti said. "Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw are two guys, specifically, who have demonstrated the attributes you're looking for in a closer. They've got a good combination of stuff and performance, and they've both pitched in high-leverage roles this past season and got very meaningful outs for us on a very competitive team.
"So I'm confident that one of those two guys could potentially do that role, if we get to Spring Training and we feel that's the best alignment. At the same time, we're not going to limit ourselves as we go into the offseason. We will search for opportunities to improve the 'pen.
"That could come in the form of an established Major League closer, or it could come in the form of us bringing in more guys with bullpen experience, and then we'll potentially look to Cody or Bryan to close games to start the year."