Amid all the celebratory grave-dancing as if Oliver Perez were a dictator who’d been overthrown, there’s a great deal of selective memory and retrospective criticism for the Mets decision to re-sign Perez after the 2008 season.
Much of it is designed to laugh at the Mets without accuracy or context—some is directed at Perez himself for his failures on the field and his perceived selfishness in exercising his right not to go to the minor leagues; some at the prior regime led by fired GM Omar Minaya for doling out the contract; a portion is used as a hammer to symbolize Perez as an outlet for the fall of the Mets from 2006 until now.
But the story behind the story tells otherwise; of course it’s easier to engage in 20/20 hindsight at the expense of facts, but the truth is that very few people were openly against the Perez signing and no one could’ve predicted what a disaster the pitcher became.
There was the hedging “if Ollie gets his head together”; or “will he live up to his prodigious talent?”; or “can the Mets solve the enigma of Perez?”. But nothing to the tune of “this is a horrible mistake that the Mets will regret immediately.”
Indulging in such ambiguity is not making a prediction. It’s an if/but/maybe.
With that in mind, let’s have a look at Perez’s tenure with the Mets, sans self-serving vitriol.
Perez had been good enough for the Mets to justify the deal.
Oliver Perez was a throw-in from the Pirates at the trading deadline in 2006.
The Mets—reeling from the still-hidden injury to Duaner Sanchez in a car accident (why not blame him too?) and ostensibly putting forth the pretense of bolstering their bullpen for the stretch run with Roberto Hernandez—acquired the 25-year-old Perez as a “Rick can fix him” guy in reference to then-pitching coach Rick Peterson; Perez had abundant talent, but pitched so terribly for the Pirates that they sent him back to the minor leagues.
Thrust into the spotlight after injuries and desperation forced the club into using him as a starting pitcher in the NLCS, Perez performed admirably.
In 2007, he went 15-10 and pitched well enough to have won 18 games.
In 2008, Perez was inconsistent for the first half and regained his groove after the firing of Peterson and hiring of Dan Warthen as pitching coach. It appeared as if the constant, in-your-face style of Peterson had worn not just on Perez, but all the Mets pitchers and Warthen’s more hands-off, less technical jargon-infused style meshed neatly with the pitching staff.
He was durable (371 innings in 2007-2008); he was pretty good (25-17 record with a terrific hits/innings pitched ratio of 320/371); and good strikeout numbers (354). Perez was and always would be wild; a mechanical nightmare; and mental question mark.
Based on talent and performance, keeping Perez after the 2008 season was the correct move without discussing the money.
These were the options and they weren’t good, logistically, practically or financially.
Here’s a rundown of the pitchers who were traded or signed elsewhere as free agents in the winter of 2008-2009 when the Mets re-signed Perez to a 3-year, $36 million contract.
Carl Pavano signed a 1-year, incentive-laden contract with the Indians—the Mets were not going there.
Randy Wolf is often discussed as a pitcher the Mets should’ve pursued instead of Perez. In 2008, Wolf had his first fully healthy season since 2003; he logged 200 innings for the Padres and Astros and pitched well; but he wasn’t exactly in demand as he only managed a 1-year, $5 million base with innings-incentives from the Dodgers.
Were the Mets supposed to go after Wolf instead of Perez? In retrospect, considering Wolf’s career resurgence and health, yes; no one knew that then.
Derek Lowe—with whom the Mets were negotiating—signed a 4-year, $60 million contract with the Braves. He’s been durable, but inconsistent in his two seasons with the Braves; the Mets weren’t matching that contract; and he’s owed $30 million through 2012. The Braves were equally as desperate for pitching as the Mets.
Randy Johnson signed a 1-year, $8 million contract with the Giants. Johnson pitched very well when he was healthy; he wasn’t going to the Mets or back to New York.
Minaya loved Vazquez; in a similar vein of “woulda, coulda, shoulda”, Vazquez was one of the best pitchers in the National League in 2009; but after his shaky 2008 for the White Sox and bad experience with the Yankees (which was repeated in 2010), the Mets weren’t gutting the system to get him.
Correia’s the one pitcher who’s been any good; he signed with the Padres for nothing after the Giants non-tendered him.
So what were the Mets supposed to do?
They were still harboring thoughts of contention; Minaya took steps to fill the holes that had sabotaged the team in 2007-2008 by acquiring J.J. Putz and Francisco Rodriguez. Did any of the above listed names—the ones who were considerations for the Mets—clearly supersede the signing of Perez to the point where the retention of Perez could’ve been ripped so savagely? Prior to Perez’s odious performance, was it said to have been a grave mistake?
Vargas was horrible for the Mets. He didn’t pitch at all in 2008 after Tommy John surgery. His stuff is mediocre. He pitched well for the Mariners last year and for portions of 2009, but to unload on Minaya for “missing” out on Vargas is second-guessing at its height. No one was holding a candle for his departure and selling Vargas as a viable replacement for Perez was not going to cut it.
Seek and ye shall find.
If you’re actively searching for mistakes GMs have made, they’re all over the place and it doesn’t matter if it’s a GM who’s the subject of idol-worship or a perceived dunce.
The Royals’ Dayton Moore signed Gil Meche to a 5-year, $55 million contract.
The Dodgers’ Ned Colletti signed Jason Schmidt to a 3-year, $47 million contract.
The Yankees’ Brian Cashman signed Carl Pavano to a 4-year, $40 million contract—and then after that disastrous and humiliating tenure, tried to bring him back this year for another $10 million!
Former Mariners GM Bill Bavasi signed Carlos Silva to a 4-year, $48 million contract.
The Red Sox paid over $100 million in posting fees and salary for Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Even the exalted ruler and object of lust; the king of all he surveys; the corporate-speaker par excellence; the man who finds himself being portrayed by Brad Pitt in a forthcoming film; Michael Lewis’s Midas—-Billy Beane—signed Esteban Loaiza to a 3-year, $21 million contract.
Teams make mistakes.
Mining through the reasoning behind said decisions is much more useful and productive than ridicule for its own sake.
Bidding against oneself and monetary scales.
Omar Minaya is not the first general manager to have been judged as “taken” by Scott Boras (Perez’s agent). It happens time and again and it seemingly is always a Boras client who winds up getting overpaid.
And it’s going to happen again.
Did Perez have other clubs pursuing him in that winter of 2008-2009? I remember the Reds, Cardinals and Braves as talked about landing spots. Was it real or a rumor floated by Boras and his minions? Does it matter?
Had the Mets held firm to a different deal as they did with Lowe; with Joel Pineiro; with Bengie Molina, either Perez would’ve stayed because he had no other serious suitor; or he’d have gone. We don’t know what would’ve happened subsequently.
Perhaps, if he’d signed with the Cardinals, Dave Duncan would’ve done another miraculous clean-up on Perez and created a 15-game winning, 200-innings man and the Mets would currently be lamenting the loss of Perez.
Financially, the $36 million is in line—considering money available and payroll factors—to the Athletics mistake with Loaiza; in fact, the A’s mistake was worse because the Mets (before getting into the ownership’s current legal issues) were better equipped to swallow the money if Perez faltered as he did.
The Mets kept Perez. It didn’t work out.
This will happen again.
Oliver Perez wasn’t the first mistake a team has made with a questionable talent and won’t be the last. To imply that it was a foreseeable, preventable error based on his results after-the-fact is nonsense.
The Mets are moving forward. You should move forward as well. Gloating over this is tawdry and precisely the type of behavior that the Mets—from organization through fanbase—wanted to get away from with Sandy Alderson’s hiring as GM.
There are better things to do and larger holes to address than this overt party at the termination of Oliver Perez‘s Mets career.
It wasn’t as cut-and-dried “wrong” as the backtracking “experts” say as they take their cheap shots and aggrandize themselves.
It made sense and didn’t work.
He was terrible.
His money is gone.
Believe it or not, I needed to do some research as to which pitchers were available, traded and signed as free agents elsewhere in the winter of 2008-2009 and I used my own book from that year as a reference!!
This year’s version is available now.
I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.