Cleveland Indians Extend Roberto Perez

Ken Blaze / USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians have signed capable backstop Roberto Perez to a contract extension. Perez broke out with the Indians in 2015 posting a near 2 WAR season in just 70 games.  Perez just turned 28 and the Indians extension provides player control through his early-to-mid-30s creating organizational flexibility.

Earlier this offseason, I discussed Perez’ overall game including his offensive tools:

Perez has two elite skills: Defense and plate discipline. Perez rocks an elite walk rate easily projectable over 11 percent. Perez simply does not chase pitches outside the strike zone. League average O-swing percentage (chasing pitches outside the strike zone) was 30.3 percent in 2016; Perez’s career chase rate is 21 percent. He has a phenomenal eye which wears pitchers out. Further, Perez adds just enough power to make the offense work in totality.

Perez struggled a bit in his 60-game sample in 2016, with a 58 wRC+. While this is still significantly better than Indians catchers overall, it also includes the Perez being rushed back from a thumb injury due to Gomes’ injury with little in the way of rehab time. Perez started to look comfortable again in September and October, ending the season with a wRC+ of 68 in September and then raking in a 15-game playoff sample for an OPS of .719.

Perez has an exceptional defensive game which is most easily seen in his ability to frame pitches.

Perez showed even more skill in the postseason in terms of preparing his pitchers and making strategic game calling decisions. Perez was able to calm and maximize Ryan Merritt in the ALCS. Perez manipulated Josh Tomlin’s curveball usage perfectly throughout the playoffs. Perez would be the starting catcher on at least ten teams in Major League Baseball. Steamer/600 (in a catcher’s case 450 PA) has Perez projected for 2 WAR, 20th among all catcher in Major League Baseball and just south of Matt Wieters/ Travis d’Arnaud at 2.1 WAR.

With Perez’ plate discipline and plus defense, it is pretty easy to envision a few 2-3 WAR seasons which will create easy surplus value for the Indians. This contract is just another in a new age of specialist/risk contract extensions that the Indians executed with Guyer and Tomlin.  From the Guyer extension analysis:

The Indians, however, have started pursuing a different contract of late. They have signed late-arbitration players to a contract with small increased guarantees over the final years in exchange for a cheap option year. The deal limits the player’s risk and offers the team the opportunity for substantive surplus value. This is the same approach the Indians used in extending Josh Tomlin. Above average and elite big leaguers looking for mammoth pay days would eschew this method, but it has found a niche on the Tribe’s negotiating table. A league average starting pitcher with arm risk or an outstanding platoon bat with a rare skill underpaid by the marketplace are the exact types of players such a deal targets.

Another skill-set that potentially fits onto this list? Elite defensive catcher. Perez is not a late arbitration player but he exists in a similar leverage position. He has obvious value to the organization but is somewhat limited in terms of arbitration growth by the role he is placed in because of Yan Gomes. Due to this negotiating position, Perez must sell his skill-set at a below-market rate. For the Indians, guaranteeing a small amount more of arbitration stage salary has provided them with ultra cheap options on a player who could post league average production which for the Indians is a boon. The five and seven million dollar options on the back end for a potentially league average starter could provide 10-20 million in savings, and is the type of money that would be paid to a mediocre backup catcher on the open market. Fantastic savings.  Limited cost-control players are huge for small markets in locking in budget projections and creating flexibility to pursue advantageous market opportunities.

Extending a part time catcher may not be exhilarating for Indians fans but Perez offers the upside to provide massive surplus value on the contract while still having the floor skills to basically eliminate any significant risk of this deal injuring the teams financial position.