The Mets And The Oliver Perez Quagmire

Please leave and never come back. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)

There are plenty of things to do to keep busy during the final four weeks of the Mets season, and there are sure to be plenty to keep us -- and the Mets -- busy throughout the offseason. One such open item concerns the future of Oliver Perez, who has become the sort of nettlesome pariah we haven't seen in Queens since 2009's version of Oliver Perez. Here's a rough timeline since Perez became a free agent following the 2008 season.

  • February 2, 2009. Mets outbid all other suitors (where number of other suitors = 0) by signing Perez to a three-year, $36 million deal.
  • April 2009 - May 2010. Perez is predictably awful.
  • May 2010. Mets ask Perez to accept minor league assignment to work on some things, namely "pitching". Perez refuses, says "I want to stay here." He was at a Milwaukee-area Chili's at the time, but when the Mets took it too literally Perez clarified, "I mean, with the Mets."
  • June 6, 2010. Unable to demote Perez, Mets instead place him on disabled list with "patella tendinitis in his right knee". Ironic quotes are mine.
  • June 2010. Perez idles on disabled list, thinks about what he's done.
  • June 30, 2010. Perez begins minor league rehab assignment. Reportedly tells a St. Lucie teammate that he "makes more money taking a dump in the Tradition Field bullpen than you'll make all year."
  • July 1, 2010. Takes dump in Tradition Field bullpen. Cashes check for $67,000.
  • July 21, 2010. Perez returns to the Mets.
  • July 2010 - September 2010. Perez is predictably awful.

Mets players have made it clear that they want Perez gone, and by "made it clear" I mean "refused to go on the record but have instead blabbed anonymously to the local media". Jeff Pearlman has called Perez the lowest of the low for refusing a minor league demotion when Brett Myers, renowned wife-beater, accepted a similar demotion following his struggles with the Phillies in 2008. Myers is a more accomplished big league pitcher than Perez (16.8 career WAR versus 5.9 for Perez), but he was humble enough to recognize that he needed to work on some things before he was ready to face major league hitters again.

The Mets have previously had success with sending floundering starters down to the minors, doing so with Steve Trachsel in 2001 and earlier with Bobby Jones. Perez was either too immodest or too thick-headed to accept that he was (a) pitching horribly, and (b) that he couldn't reasonably be allowed to "figure things out" against premium competition. Maybe he just still believed the hype, legitimate as it was after his splendid year in 2004 or artificially inflated as it was by the imprudent contract he was given by the Mets in 2009.

The perception of Perez as a selfish prat is what has led to his being loathed by fans and, apparently, teammates, far more so than similarly overpaid players like Roger Cedeno or Mo Vaughn, who were resented for their contracts but not universally despised the way Perez is. Under different circumstances one might have actually felt bad for Perez, overpaid as he is, for having to mill about aimlessly in the bullpen for four workless weeks in August while the Mets gave throwaway innings to Elmer Dessens and Ryota Igarashi. After all, Perez is earning more than four-fifths of the starting rotation earns combined, was seemingly healthy, and yet couldn't beg his way into a game for 28 straight days.

Any plea for sympathy went out the window the moment Perez said, "No thanks, it's not for me" when asked to work on some things in Triple-A Buffalo. If my writing peripherals fall apart, you guys would have every right to demote me to the FanPosts until I get my act together. One could reasonably support Perez's rehabilitation from the dregs of the league if he only had (a) the humility to accept his shortcomings, and (b) the drive to do everything in his power to improve himself. At this point neither of those things seems likely.

It's difficult to imagine a scenario where Oliver Perez as part of the 2011 Opening Day Mets makes any sense at all. He indicated yesterday that he might play winter ball in Puerto Rico, but unless he spends the offseason working out and getting better at pitching baseballs, and gets to Florida in February and blows everyone away with his attitude as well as his fastball, his presence on the active roster is superfluous at best and disruptive and destructive at worst. I also can't see any other team taking on more than a million dollars of Perez's $12 million 2011 salary, unless the Mets are willing to take back an equally embarrassing contract in return.

Like Perez, Gil Meche is similarly owed $12 million next season in the final year of his contract. Would you take him straight-up for Perez? Meche has walked more batters than he has struck out this season, and after opting out of season-ending shoulder surgery is now pitching in relief for the Royals. Alternatively, in a depressing bit of sentimentality, the Mets could reacquire Scott Kazmir and his guaranteed $14.5 million from the Angels. Kazmir still walks as many batters as he ever has, but he can no longer strike anyone out. There's also Kosuke Fukudome, who is set to make $13.5 with the Cubs next year, but he's actually somewhat useful and has a no-trade clause to boot.

If they can't find a comparably bad contract to exchange for Perez's, the Mets will have to fork over the $12 million to Perez, and it seems plainly clear that they'd be better off paying him that money to pitch elsewhere or nowhere at all than to pitch -- or not pitch -- for the Mets. There are only two reasons the Mets wouldn't just cut bait with Perez.

  1. They think he might be able to contribute something of value
  2. They don't want to risk looking foolish by releasing him only to have him pitch well for another team

All but the most hopeless optimist have long given up hope of the first coming true. Not only will we never see 2004 Oliver Perez again, chances are we'll never see 2007 Oliver Perez again, and even 2008 Oliver Perez seems pitifully out of reach. No, it doesn't seem likely at all that Perez will contribute meaningfully to the 2011 Mets.

As for the second point, sure, Perez might find success with another club after moving on from the Mets, and if that happens the Mets might look foolish. However, they already do look foolish for keeping Perez on the roster and even pitching him occasionally, and they'll look even more witless if they carry him for one or more miserable months in 2011. It's a simple question of probability: Maybe there's a 25% chance he pitches well for the Cardinals or the Royals, but there's nearly a 100% chance of undesirable results should the Mets break camp with Perez next season.

The Mets could reasonably take until the end of spring training to find a new home for Perez. Maybe there's a fit with one of the aforementioned players -- or someone else entirely -- that could allow them to part ways with their albatross in exchange for another's in a standard change-of-scenery swap. Failing that, the Mets can offer Perez another demotion to begin 2011 and, should he once again decline the invitation, they could grant him his outright release. I'll frequently argue that it sometimes makes sense to take on a jerk so long as his production makes up for his personality. In Perez, the Mets got the worst of both: an awful player with the hubris of a great one. Once the 2010 season draws to a merciful close, a priority for the 2011 Mets should be that Oliver Perez never pitches for them.

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