(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.


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Sunday, May 03, 2009

The Troubling Case of Oliver Perez

Again, the disclaimer: I am a Phillies' fan (you can do a search on Google for SportsProf and Phillies and figure out that there are longstanding, emotional reasons for this). That said, I am not a partisan. I have a great deal of respect for the Mets and for Major Leaguers in general, and while I like to see the Phillies win I derive no joy when the careers of opposing players seem to be (even if temporarily) on a precipice. And that's the case right now with the Mets' Oliver Perez.

He has a 9.97 ERA, had a bad outing yesterday against the Phillies, and now Mets' skipper Jerry Manuel is trying to determine whether to demote Perez to AAA Norfolk to straighten out his problems or to put him on the disabled list. Remember, GM Omar Minaya opted not to pursue sinkerballer Derek Lowe and chose instead to re-sign Perez at 3 years and $36 million (Lowe, in his mid-30's, wanted a fourth year). Perez has great stuff, and when he's on, he's unhittable. When he's not, well, he's wild, in the strike zone and out, gets hit, walks people, and doesn't fare well. And, right now, he's far from the Perez who can baffle hitters and make them wonder if their careers are in jeopardy.

The Mets can hit. The Mets' bullpen is now one of the best in baseball. But the Mets realize that they have to have enough starting pitching behind Johan Santana to get them to that now-vaunted bullpen. They need Oliver Perez, and they're hoping that he can stage a Brett Myers-like turnaround to help fortify their starting pitching staff and be a strong contender for a playoff berth come the fall.

Initially Perez was receptive to a demotion, but he's a five-year man and can decline it. He also said that his knee has been bothering him, so perhaps a stay on the 15-day disabled list and three rehab starts can straighten him out without a blow to an already shaky mindset. It's tough to see pitchers struggle, and while I don't want to see Perez torture the Phillies, I do wonder what he can do if he harnesses his massive talent and puts it all together for the Mets. Mets' fans remain hopeful, as does the Mets' front office.

Omar Minaya dodged a bullet several years ago when he lost out to the Giants in the Barry Zito sweepstakes. Had he won that contest, he problem wouldn't be the GM today because the Zito signing is one of the biggest busts of all-time. In this past off-season, he opted to re-sign Perez. He also made some very good moves in trading for J.J. Putz and signing free-agent closer Francisco Rodriguez (K-Rod to the faithful). In doing that, he fortified the bullpen, which was the Mets' achilles heel in 2008, and did an excellent job. Whether he has put together a strong enough team to win it all -- as Baseball Prospectus suggests the Mets can -- remains to be seen.

I feel for Oliver Perez and hope that he finds consistency.