When the Cleveland Indians acquired Chris Perez as a beardless 23-year-old with back-end bullpen fireballer potential, most fans knew that his time as the club’s closer would soon follow. Once the team traded Kerry Wood in July of 2010 (yes, it’s only been three years), Perez assumed the role full-time and immediately flashed serious potential. He possessed a mid-to-upper 90’s heater, a solid slider, and a fiery demeanor that typically fits the bill of a major league closer. Fans were excited to see what Perez had in store for the years to come.
The following season, Perez made the AL All-Star team by collecting 21 pre-All-Star-break saves and compiling a 2.43 ERA. Then fans began to experience the Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde-like experience that is Chris Perez on the pitcher’s mound, as he posted a 4.44 ERA after the break. Nonetheless, Perez finished fourth in the AL with 36 total saves.
The Indians closer experienced a similar season in 2012, as he reached the All-Star Game for the second year in a row only to have his performance worsen as the season rolled along. He still managed to finish the season with the AL’s fourth-highest save total yet again with 39 saves, though his ERA ballooned to 3.59 – merely decent for a closer. Perhaps more alarming was the fact that his velocity was not what it once was, and it was becoming more and more apparent that hitters had all but completely figured out Perez. Not to mention the numerous occasions where Perez questioned the loyalty of Indians fans, which obviously didn’t sit too well with the majority of the team’s followers. Perez’s Houdini-like ninth inning escapes were the only standing between him being an All-Star and him losing his job.
So, the right-hander came into the 2013 season with the wheels still moving, but most had the sense that those same wheels were about to come flying off. They sure did, and they did so violently.
Perez’s roller-coaster ride of a season began with a relatively calm start, where he allowed just one earned run in eight innings of work, though that one run cost him a save opportunity. The Florida native was then smacked around hard during the month of May, where he surrendered seven earned runs in just 8.2 innings. His 8/9 walk/strikeout ratio certainly didn’t help. The month concluded with a trip to the sidelines for Perez, who had reportedly been experiencing shoulder issues for quite some time.
The injury kept him out until late June, though he couldn’t quite stay away from annoying Tribe fans. A little more than a week after he was placed on the disabled list, it was reported that Perez and his wife had been arrested on drug possession charges. Police reportedly found drug paraphernalia in Perez’s home, which they had searched following the investigation of a suspicious package – which was found to be containing marijuana – that had been addressed to the family’s dog, Brody.
Regardless of the negative publicity thrown onto Perez by the incident, he escaped from the situation relatively unscathed until later in the season. Perez and his wife plead no contest, but were found guilty, in early September. The ugly situation seemed to have a profound effect on the now 28-year-old closer, who was unable to build off of his surprisingly excellent string of games upon returning from the DL (2-0, 8/8 in save opportunities, 0.60 ERA in 14 July appearances).
The closer blew two saves in August while allowing seven earned runs in 11 innings pitched, and then blew yet another costly save (that was quickly erased by Jason Giambi’s miraculous late-season walk-off homer) during a horrid month of September that eventually culminated in Perez losing his job.
Perez was demoted to a lesser role to finish up the season, although he remained on the club’s roster for its short-lived postseason appearance during which Perez did not make a trip to the mound.
On Thursday, the Indians announced that they had released their former closer, ending an era of continual ups-and-downs for the righty relief pitcher. In five seasons with the club, Perez converted a total of 124 of 143 save opportunities.
Which reliever will take over as the club’s full-time closer for next season remains to be seen. With a full offseason ahead and a fresh sense of optimism that comes with making the postseason for the first time in six seasons, the Indians may choose to pursue a free agent relief pitcher to fill the role, such as the charismatic former Giants closer – and, more recently, Dodgers late-game specialist – Brian Wilson.
Or, the team may opt to stay in-house to fill the gap, as youngster Cody Allen – fresh off an excellent first full season in the pros – appears to be the most likely candidate to take over if that were to be the case. And who could forget Joe Smith? The consistent submarine-style right-hander has spent the past few seasons in the Indians ‘pen and has been solid as can be, but the club may opt to let the veteran walk into free agency this offseason instead.
With so many questions now surrounding the back-end of the bullpen, to say there’s a level of uncertainty for the Indians heading into the offseason would be an understatement. However, one thing is for certain: Chris Perez will not be in the mix. And that, my friends, is one thing that brings a boyish grin to my face.
Opening photo credit: Mark Duncan/AP