When the Mets acquired left-hander Oliver Perez in a trade with the Pirates at the 2006 trade deadline, they thought they were getting a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. Five tumultuous seasons later, Perez’s tenure as a Met was meekly ended during spring training prior to the 2011 season having compiled a 4.71 ERA over 520 innings in New York. Since then, Perez toiled in the Minors with the Nationals in 2011, and with the Mariners in the first half of 2012.
The Mariners, though, did something the Mets and Nationals did not — they converted Perez to a reliever. With Triple-A Tacoma last year, Perez posted a 4.65 ERA in 31 innings. He struggled with control, walking 19, but also rediscovered his swing-and-miss stuff, striking out 42 batters. He was promoted to the Majors in mid-June last year. Between June 18 and the end of the regular season, he posted a 2.12 ERA in 29.2 innings with 24 strikeouts and 10 walks.
Somehow, Perez has been even better this year. In 24.1 innings, the 31-year-old has a 1.11 ERA with 33 strikeouts and 12 walks. He earned the first save of his 12-year career last night, shutting the door on the Athletics in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 victory.
Perez’s success has to be in the back of the mind of any team that is considering going after Tim Lincecum in free agency. Lincecum has continued to struggle as a starter, but prospered out of the Giants’ bullpen in the post-season last year. Future Hall of Famer John Smoltz, who performed well in both roles, thinks Lincecum has a future as a reliever.
If Oliver Perez can do it, why can’t Tim Lincecum?
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.