CLEVELAND, Ohio — Free agent reliever Oliver Perez has agreed to a one-year, $2.5 million contract to rejoin the Cleveland Indians, which includes a vesting option that could keep him with the Tribe through 2020.
Perez can trigger the $2.75 million option if he remains healthy through the end of the 2019 season and makes at least 55 appearances. The option jumps to $3 million if he makes 60 appearances, sources told cleveland.com.
Perez, 37, went to spring training last year with Cincinnati, but was released and signed a minor-league deal with the Yankees. He exercised an opt-out clause in his contract June 1, and joined the Indians the next day in Minnesota.
President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said the club is excited to re-sign the veteran lefty and hopes that Perez can continue to have an impact on the team.
“When Oliver joined our major-league team last year he was a stabilizing presence in the bullpen at a point in time we really needed it,” Antonetti said. “He pitched extraordinarily well for us against both left- and right-handed hitters and became a reliable option for (manager Terry Francona) as the season progressed.”
The 16-year veteran led the Indians with 15 holds while recording scoreless appearances in 46 of his 51 outings and posting the highest wins above replacement of any reliever on the staff (1.3).
“He executed his pitches exceedingly well against both left-handed and right-handed hitters,” Antonetti said. “He changed his pitch mix a little bit, but mostly it came down to execution.”
Perez rescued a Tribe bullpen that was in distress through the first two months of the season. His inherited runners scored percentage was 9.3 (4-of-43), the lowest in the American League. Perez allowed only one run over his first 22 outings (14 1/3 innings), and after June 16 his ERA was 1.35.
Perez becomes the first free agent from Cleveland’s 2018 roster to re-sign with the club. Josh Donaldson, Michael Brantley, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Lonnie Chisenhall and Rajai Davis have all inked deals with other teams for 2019.
With Allen and Miller no longer in the bullpen, Antonetti said there are certainly opportunities for Perez to pitch in leverage innings.
“Exactly what role that is depends upon the group of guys we break camp with and how guys are doing at those respective points in time,” Antonetti said. “They’ll settle into roles as the season progresses, but I would expect Oliver will pitch some meaningful innings for us.”
Antonetti said the club feels good about the bullpen’s depth heading to spring training, but admitted it would continue to be an area where the team will look to improve.
“With some of the returning players we have from last year’s bullpen, guys returning from injury as well as guys that we acquired during the course of trades or minor signings this offseason, we feel like we’ve got a good group to choose from,” Antonetti said. “That won’t preclude from looking at other options to improve that group, but we feel good about the guys we have.”