The Indians avoided arbitration with Rafael Perez by signing the left-handed reliever to a one-year, $795,000 contract Tuesday. Now, the Tribe hopes Perez can avoid anything resembling his 2009 season.
Perez, who was the Tribe's lone arbitration-eligible player, is coming off a year in which the former setup man was twice demoted to Triple-A Columbus. Perez went 4-3 with a 7.31 in 54 appearances. Was this a mere blip on the radar or the start of a troubling trend? As Tuesday's signing confirms, the Indians are betting on the former. "I'd like to think that last year was just a hiccup from a guy that was used and used heavily for the previous two or three years," pitching coach Tim Belcher said. "[Perez] had success in winter ball, and we look for him to be in a position to rebound and be a solid contributor in our bullpen." In six appearances, including five starts, in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, Perez went 3-0 with a 0.33 ERA, striking out 25 and walking 10 in 27 innings. Though he thrived in that starting role, the Indians have no intention of moving him out of the bullpen right now. "He did well enough to get everybody's attention and say [starting is] a potential option," Belcher said. "But here's a guy who, for a number of years now, has been a bullpen guy. To all of a sudden change gears and put him in the rotation and expect a guy to go 180 or 200 innings is not something we want to do at this point. But it certainly presents an option, should unforeseen injuries happen with the starters we have currently." Though new to his current role, Belcher has been in the organization as an adviser for several years, and he saw Perez's struggles last season first-hand. "I think his slider lost his effectiveness," Belcher said. "Obviously, you have to have depth with a breaking pitch to be successful. I think he lost the depth to his slider, and that can be attributed to a number of things. He pitched a lot of ballgames the last three or four years out of the bullpen. It could be where those innings and appearances caught up with him a little bit." Perez and the Indians agreed to terms on the day teams and players were scheduled to swap salary figures. The Indians had non-tendered two other arbitration-eligibles, right-handers Jose Veras and Anthony Reyes, last month. The Indians haven't had an arbitration situation reach a hearing since 1991. Perez, who is 9-9 with a 3.97 ERA in 189 appearances, made $436,300 last season.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.