Oliver Perez has always been an entertaining and erratic pitcher, but the New York Mets are very much concerned and more than a little annoyed at him right now.
His stint in the World Baseball Classic has left him out of shape and he does not seem to have much power behind his pitches. Both Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana have both recently attempted to speak to him about his mindset and approach. He appears not to be taking anyone or anything seriously, which is adding to the concern, and the contract offer seems more generous by the minute.
It is easy to laugh off his antics and say, "Ollie will be Ollie" or "Don't mind him, he's not playing with a full deck," etc., but when you are a part of a team such as the Mets and their recent history, you are expected to take things seriously. More importantly, you need to show your teammates and management that you are open-minded and doing everything possible to contribute to the the team's success.
Perez admitted he pitched about six innings in the 19 days he played for Team Mexico in the WBC, and it affected his conditioning. He also said that he was not required to participate in standard fielding drills.
During a 19-day portion of the season, he would normally pitch close to 20 innings due to a five-man rotation and regularly scheduled off days. Perez also would be required to participate in pitcher-covering-base fielding drills, or PFP, covering both first and third base as needed when the corner infielders need to leave their base to handle bunts and other unique plays that may occur.
Pitchers normally do cover first base for bunts, but covering third base is something that most teams do but Mets pitchers do not show much familiarity with, and this makes it very difficult for David Wright to leave third base to maneuver around the field. Jose Reyes may need to cover second base on the same play if a runner is either on first or may be trying to reach second, so a pitcher may be valuable even in a run down situation between home and third.
Mets manager Jerry Manuel wants his pitchers to be more involved in smart fielding once the ball is released from their hands. Letting them stay in bad habits will hurt them as individuals and the team.
His job during the WBC was to arrive at the park, do some running, and then pitch but nothing else. Perez could have worked on his conditioning during his time off, but it is perceived that he spent his time drinking and filling up on sweets during the tournament.
There is still time for Perez to get into regular-season form, but you do have to wonder if the fact that his contract is firmly in place has made him lazy and complacent. Hopefully, he will get back into shape and his arm will liven up, and he will end up having a great season.
A few quality starts in Spring Training exhibition games should impress Manuel and pitching coach Dan Warthen. If he does not show signs of improvement, Omar Minaya will certainly be regretting his decision to sign Perez for three years instead of one year with the option for a second.
Perez and his agent Scott Boras dragged out the contract renewal process for the better part of the offseason, as expected, and Perez ended up signing a three-year, $36 million deal.
The Mets are relying heavily on Perez and the other starting pitchers to have a good year, and it is a fact that pitching—not hitting—wins championships, which is exactly what the Mets need in order to put the past two seasons behind them.
Santana and John Maine did not participate in the WBC because they are both rehabbing from surgeries, and Mike Pelfrey also stayed in Port St. Lucie to work on his pitching mechanics.
Perez has his work cut out for him to prove he is worthy of his contract and that the Mets allowing him to participate in the WBC was not a mistake.