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Free Royals and dodged bullets

Royals pitchers Odalis Perez and David Riske will hit the market as free agents next week.

Perez was several free agent starters the Indians pursued prior to the 2005 season.  He ended up signing a three-year, $24 million deal with the Dodgers, a deal that can fairly be called a disaster for them.  He was traded to the Royals in mid-2006, but the Dodgers continued to pay most of his salary.  The Indians also pursued Jon Lieber and Matt Clement that offseason, and they too went on to sign three-year deals in the $25 million range with the Phillies and Red Sox respectively.  Lieber's deal ends up looking the best, but that ain't saying much.

Shut out of the primary market, the Indians ended up taking a flier on the recently rehabbed Kevin Millwood for the 2005 season, replacing him with Paul Byrd for the next two seasons, at a total cost of $21 million.  While the Indians deserve credit for two smart contracts that both worked out, it's also fair to say they dodged a few bullets by losing the bidding for the first three.

As for Riske, he's coming off a stellar year, and his contract allowed him to convert a 2008 team option into a player option if he appeared in 60 games, which he reached with ease.  Drafted and developed by the Indians, he was coming off an excellent three-year run when he was thrown into the Crisp-Marte trade in January 2006 -- and some of us never have figured out how the Indians could have preferred Guillermo Mota to him.  Riske went on the DL almost immediately after joining Boston last April and was soon traded to the White Sox, where he waited out free agency.

This season, he struggled out of the gate with a 6.97 ERA in April, but he rebounded with 18 straight scoreless appearances from May 1 through June 8, and he finished strong with a 2.30 from that point on.  Riske can be a confusing pitcher, never that many strikeouts, not exceptional at avoiding free passes and somewhat prone to the long ball.  Yet he's undeniably effective at inducing bad contact, allowing only a .256 BABIP over the past five seasons, and he's always handled lefties well.

We've never really gotten a straight answer from the Indians on Riske, only an oft-repeated rumor that Wedge didn't trust him.  Even so, given the organization's new religion on bullpen depth, you would think that the Indians wouldn't pass up an opportunity to get back a quality reliever.  Then again, Riske seems like exactly the kind of guy the Yankees like to give $15 million deals to.