Why Cleveland Indians Closer Chris Perez Is Right About Team Blowing It
David Richard-US PRESSWIRE
As of Sept. 6, the Tribe has a record of 58-79. That's good for fourth place in the AL Central, 16.5 games behind the division-leading Chicago White Sox.
But in Perez's eyes, it didn't have to be this way. The Indians should have been a playoff contender in the American League this season. However, ownership hasn't made the same financial commitment to winning that division rivals like the Detroit Tigers have.
“Different owners,” Perez told Fox Sports' Jon Paul Morosi. “It comes down to that. [The Tigers] are spending money. [Tigers owner Mike Ilitch] wants to win.
"Even when the economy was down (in Detroit), he spent money. He’s got a team to show for it. You get what you pay for in baseball. Sometimes you don’t. But most of the time you do.”
Tigers fans might question that "he's got a team to show for it" statement, given Detroit's performance this season and current second-place standing in the AL Central. Losing two of three to Perez's Indians from Sept. 3-5 after sweeping the White Sox over the Labor Day weekend has Tiger Town steaming.
The Tigers have indeed spent money. According to USA Today, Detroit has the fifth-highest payroll in baseball at more than $132 million. The Indians are ranked No. 21 among the 30 clubs in MLB, paying $78 million in salaries this year. That $54 million disparity is almost enough to cover this year's payroll for the Oakland Athletics or San Diego Padres.
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But it's not just about spending money. It's about following through with a plan.
The Indians have shown some inconsistency over the past year, either abandoning the direction the team decided to go in last year or changing on the fly and leaving the current club wondering what the front office really wants to do.
Last year, the Indians made perhaps the biggest deal of the trade deadline, acquiring Ubaldo Jimenez from the Colorado Rockies in exchange for pitching prospects Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Joe Gardner, along with infielder Matt McBride.
This was undoubtedly a "go for it" move for Cleveland. Pomeranz, White and Gardner were all top-10 prospects, according to Baseball America. All three could have been part of the Indians' major league rotation over the next two or three seasons. With Justin Masterson under club control for another three seasons (including 2012), this set the Tribe up nicely for the future.
Instead, general manager Chris Antonetti sent that future to Colorado for a pitcher that had prior major league success but didn't profile as a No. 1 starter in the American League. Even Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd felt that way.
Did the Indians get the top-tier starting pitcher they were seeking?
In 11 starts last season, Jimenez finished with a 4-4 record and 5.10 ERA. This year, Jimenez is even worse, sporting a 9-15 record and 5.58 ERA. Those 15 losses are the most among major league starting pitchers as of Sept. 6. That ERA ranks No. 92 among the top 94 qualifying starters in MLB. Jimenez's strikeouts are down while his walks, hits and home runs allowed have all gone up.
Cleveland was 1.5 games behind the Tigers for first place in the AL Central when the trade was made. The front office was bringing in reinforcements, making a trade that would ideally push the Tribe over the top in the division and carry them to the postseason. The team needed a starting pitcher and got one of the presumed best ones available.
Kyle Terada-US PRESSWIRE
However, the Indians badly misjudged Jimenez and wildly overpaid for him. This speaks to another comment Perez made to Morosi, criticizing the front office for its poor decision-making.
“You can’t miss,” Perez said. “You have to be right. That’s why I say it’s not just ownership. They don’t make the trades. It’s the GMs. It goes hand in hand. The GMs can only spend the money the owners give them, but they pick who they spend it on or who they don’t. They pick. The owners don’t pick."
Perez may not have been referring directly to Jimenez, but he may as well have. At the very least, his finger is pointed in the right direction when blaming Antonetti for missing badly with this trade.
Both the Indians' ownership and front office messed up over the past year. Even if the Jimenez trade turned out to be a bad one, it was a deal intended to give the Tribe a push into playoff contention for at least two or three seasons. Yet ownership refused to follow up that trade by bringing in free-agent help to keep the Indians competitive in the AL Central.
Perez highlights Josh Willingham as a player Cleveland should have signed. But the Indians lost out on him because they wouldn't offer the third year that Willingham was looking for in a contract. As a result, Willingham signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the division rival Minnesota Twins.
Would Willingham look good in left field for the Tribe right now? They're currently starting Ezequiel Carrera at that position. Meanwhile, Willingham has 33 home runs, 98 RBI and an .899 OPS for the Twins. The Indians could have had that if they'd just been willing to spend an extra $7 million. That's a bargain price for a slugging left fielder in today's market.
Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE
The Indians looked like they were going for it with the Jimenez trade, yet they pulled back when it came to adding a hitter like Willingham that would have provided the lineup with the middle-of-the-order hitter it so badly needed.
The front office may have made the right move, but ownership sharply changed the plan and cut the team off at the knees.
Perez will get criticized for being so outspoken. In May, he ripped Cleveland fans for not coming out to support what was then a first-place team. In mid-August, Perez showed terrible judgment by getting into an argument with a fan in Oakland and the entire profanity-filled exchange was caught on video. So maybe Perez needs to simmer down a bit.
But Perez is right with his criticisms of the Indians' ownership and front office. They let the team and its fans down this season with bad decisions and a lack of commitment to winning.
Maybe Perez is hoping to get traded by continuing to talk smack. Dealing him in the offseason might be a good decision by Indians management.
Follow @iancass on Twitter.
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