Indians have needs in the bullpen, too
NOV 19, 2013 8:27a ET
The move was quick and decisive on the first official day of the offseason to clear themselves of the $9 million or so obligation for him next season and the big giant headache he had become off the field and in the locker room.
For as much as Perez was maligned in Cleveland and the many high wire acts he put everyone through in the ninth inning, he posted 124 saves and a 3.33 ERA in 274 appearances in his five-year Indians career. It was a career that really, for the most part, was good, but the closers role is one of the most volatile in the sport because of how people fall into and out of favor of them so quickly.
Perez was nothing special, but he was a solid back-end reliever who usually got the job done by converting 86.7-percent of his saves as an Indian -- even if it left fans reaching for the Rolaids. But for a team with a finite budget and him slated to earn so much money next season, it is a move that had to be made. A team like the Indians with a payroll around $80-85 million can ill afford to have over 10 percent of their payroll tied into an average or slightly above average closer -- something that would have happened if Perez was retained for 2014.
Not only is Perez out of the picture, but ultra-reliable right-hander Joe Smith is a free agent and probably won't return because he's going to get a multi-year deal for $5-7 million a year. He is one of the more underappreciated players over the past five years as he has appeared in 303 games and racked up a 2.76 ERA as an Indian. Considering the volatile nature of relievers, it is not often you find a guy who performs so consistently year in and year out for as long as Smith has with the Indians.
With Perez and Smith gone, the Indians have said that internal options such as Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen will be considered for the vacant closer and setup role. Simply plugging in Shaw and Allen in the setup and closer role may be simple, but it doesn't offer up a lot of wiggle room either if one or both fail.
They do have Vinnie Pestano as an option, but he is a complete unknown going into next year. His health and confidence issues were a problem this season, and it is unknown if he will bounce back and be the Vinnie of old or end up on the Jensen Lewis career path.
They have some interesting young, inexperienced arms such as Preston Guilmet and C.C. Lee that could become much bigger factors later in the year. They have Blake Wood coming off of his first healthy season. And they also have the enigmatic Carlos Carrasco who might have the potential to be great in a bullpen role, but could struggle just as much as a reliever as he has as a starter.
But as a team expecting to contend next season, the Indians need another proven, experienced option or two for the back-end of the bullpen. If they were the Astros or another team looking to go through another development year, they could go with what they have to see what sticks. But as a contender they simply can't afford to do that since so many seasons are lost because of a bad bullpen.
Both Shaw and Allen pitched well this season, but neither has much true experience pitching in a high leverage role in the eighth and ninth inning. They both have had occasional opportunities in the role, but have never had the pressure of the responsibility night in and night out, so you really don't know how they will respond.
This is why the Indians will likely add at least one back-end pen arm this offseason via trade or free agency - maybe even two.
Shaw, Allen and even Pestano should be in the mix as late inning options, but the Indians need to find an experienced, reliable, cost efficient late inning arm or two to add to the mix in order to help reduce some of the risk involved with their limited internal options.
The best fit would be an arbitration eligible pen arm that they can acquire who won't be too expensive next season and can be controlled contractually for the next year or so, but those kinds of players are hard to find. A perfect fit would be Steve Cishek from Miami, but he probably won't be available this offseason and even if he were would cost a pretty penny to acquire.
There are a bevy of relievers with closing experience that are available on the free agent market such as Grant Balfour, Joaquin Benoit, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Madson, Edward Mujica, Joe Nathan, Fernando Rodney, Jose Veras and Brian Wilson. Some of those guys would be a reclamation project and some are better than others, but it is a saturated market where the Indians should be able to sign one of them to a one year deal for a few million and tab them as their closer.
There are also some other interesting back-end bullpen options available in free agency such as setup man Jesse Crain. He was great the first three months of the season racking up 38 appearances and a miniscule 0.74 ERA, but then missed the last three months of the season because of a shoulder issue.
Crain has been a very consistent and effective reliever over his career appearing in 532 games with a 3.05 ERA. He brings the experience needed for a late inning pen role, has pitched his entire career in the AL Central, and the injury issue might be enough to push his cost down to where the Indians can afford the risk to sign him on a one or two year deal for a few million per season.
When looking at the alternatives for the bullpen, the Indians do not need to focus on just closers or setup men. They just need one or the other. Allen is versatile enough where depending on what the Indians add to the roster he could be the primary setup man or be the closer, and of course they also have Shaw in the mix too.
No matter what decision the Indians make with filling their need for a late inning pen arm this offseason, it will be a much more efficient use of their money than had they kept Perez. Even if Perez's replacement provides the same results, it would be a win-win as you would be paying that player league minimum (Shaw or Allen) or on a much smaller deal at $1 to $4 million (free agent).
With a team needing to shore up their starting rotation and adding a bat or two, that is an efficient use of their money so as to make sure they have the dollars available to make those upgrades all while fortifying a bullpen in need of upgrades itself.
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