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Oliver Pérez returning to Cleveland on minor-league deal

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The veteran lefty will also receive an invite to spring training

Cleveland Indians v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Oliver Pérez is headed back to Cleveland on a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training, according to Jon Heyman.

Pérez, 39, will join fellow vet and over-35 member Blake Parker as Cleveland’s last-minute bullpen additions ahead of spring training. He is, as of right now, one of a handful of lefties vying for a spot in the ‘pen, along with Kyle Nelson, Anthony Gose, and whoever doesn’t make the starting rotation between Scott Moss, Sam Hentges, and Logan Allen.

Cleveland has employed Pérez for the last three seasons, and he has shown very few signs of slowing down, despite the 1458.0 innings logged on his throwing arm. Last season he pitched 18.0 innings of relief, allowing four earned runs with 40 strikeouts and 15 walks. He has been worth exactly 2.0 fWAR during his time as Cleveland’s Silver Fox.

ZiPS and Steamer both, of course, see some major regression coming his way as he approaches his 40th birthday. The former projects him to finish 2021 with an ERA of 3.71 over 34.0 innings and the latter has him at a 4.49 ERA over 42.0 innings. While it was only the equivalent of two full games, Pérez did see his strikeout rate dip considerably in 2020 — something you might expect out of someone who has pitched for the better part of 19 years. His 19.4% strikeout rate in 2020 was the lowest it had been since he was a starter with the Mets in 2010. Neither projection system, nor common sense, see him getting back to the 27.3% strikeout rate he sported in 2018.

While Pérez does fare better against lefties in his career (.298 wOBA against), he can hold his own against right-handed batters (.240 wOBA against). An important skill to have with the three-batter minimum rule and death of the LOOGY. With Cleveland, especially, he has been an absolute lefty killer in each of his three seasons:

  • 2018: .194/.215/.274 vs. left-handed batters
  • 2019: .207/.274/.333 vs. left-handed batters
  • 2020: .185/.258/.222 vs. left-handed batters

Pérez still needs to pass physicals before the deal can become official, but if he does (and if he makes the team), he will share a bullpen with Emmanuel Clase, who would have been four years old when Pérez debuted with the Padres in 2002.

He will also be 53 by the time Fernando Tatis Jr.’s contract with the Padres is done.