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Monday, March 21, 2011
Mets' recent moves painful, encouraging

By Chad Dotson

The New York Mets finally, mercifully, released lefty Oliver Perez today. That's not so surprising. What's almost shocking is that the Mets, clearly one of the worst-run franchises in recent years, for the second time in a week have demonstrated a firm understanding of the concept of sunk costs.

Oliver Perez
Oliver Perez says the Mets gave him a chance to establish himself this spring before releasing him.
After releasing second baseman Luis Castillo (and eating the $6 million Castillo is due for 2011), the Mets let Perez go, despite owing the 29-year-old pitcher $12 million on the last year of his contract. The new regime, led by GM Sandy Alderson, is clearly committed to moving forward despite being saddled with some very poor decisions made by previous GM Omar Minaya. If you are a Mets fan (and for the sake of your mental health, I hope you are not), it's an encouraging sign.

That $12 million was (and is) going to have to be paid to Perez whether he pitched to a single batter in 2011. It's the very definition of a sunk cost, a cost that has already been incurred and, importantly, cannot be recovered and should not influence future decisions. The question is only whether Perez can help the Mets this year. Alderson made the judgment -- a wise decision, by all accounts -- that Perez was washed up, so he cut bait. More teams should follow that example.

A sidenote: Adam Rubin has a nice list of some other absurd New York contracts that the club has been forced to swallow in years past. (You Mets fans might want to avoid looking at that list).

We can close the door on the Perez era in New York, but what to make of his tenure in the Big Apple? Let's start here:

despite garnering a somewhat poor reputation ("He's not a team player!" -- whatever that means), Perez said all the right things upon his release today:
"When they told me, I almost knew what they were going to tell me," Perez said inside the clubhouse at the team's spring training complex after shaking hands with teammates. "It's one of those times you don't feel great, but I don't want to quit."

Perez indicated he believed he got a fair shot from the Mets' new regime.

"I think they gave me an opportunity," he said. "They were fair with me when I came here. 'We're going to give you an opportunity to be a starter.' I didn't do anything great. They moved me to the bullpen trying to be a lefty specialist. And the last game, that was a real horrible job."

For some time now, Perez has been an enigma, and that's only magnified by the unique pressures of playing in New York. He's a conundrum, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce. Perez has shown signs of brilliance, and he has shown signs that the strike zone is only a vague concept to him.

As a 22 year-old with the Pirates in 2004, Perez looked like a star on the rise. He posted a 12-10 record with a 2.98 ERA in 30 starts (196 innings); his ERA+ was 145 and he was a 4.5 WAR player. Importantly, Perez led the league in K/9 percentage (remember that). There isn't a team in the league that wouldn't want a player who could put up that line.

The next two seasons were ... well, they were just bad, but the Mets acquired Perez at the 2006 trade deadline (along with Roberto Hernandez, in exchange for Xavier Nady). Perez's first full season in New York, 2007, gave many hope that the left-hander was ready to emerge as a 25 year-old. Ollie went 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA and a 121 ERA+. After a so-so 2008, and despite serious warning signs (Perez led the league in walks issued), Minaya signed Perez to a lucrative three-year, $36 million deal, hoping that Perez would be able to get a handle on his much-documented control problems.

Yeah, that didn't happen. Over the first two years of that contract, Perez was nothing short of awful. He went 3-9 with a 6.81 ERA and his control cratered, walking nearly 8 batters per nine innings. Combine that with the fact that Perez has never again approached strikeout numbers like he had shown as a 22 year-old wunderkind, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Perez will likely catch on somewhere; you can't get rid of a left-handed pitcher that easily. If he can't figure out some way to get a ball in the vicinity of the strike zone, however, we might have seen the last of him in the big leagues.

Chad Dotson writes Redleg Nation, a blog about the Cincinnati Reds. Follow him on Twitter.