In 2009, the Cleveland Indians were not good. You might remember it as the season that Tomo Ohka was allowed to throw 71 sub-replacement level innings. Or the season that saw Ryan Garko man 28 innings in the outfield. Or the year that Masa Kobayahsi was actually paid to be on a Major League roster. These were heady times to be an Indians fan.
We’ll likely remember 2009 as the nadir of the organization’s rebuild: the front office was in pure sell-off mode, shipping out everything that wasn’t nailed down for assets aimed to restock the club for another run at contention. Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Carl Pavano, Kelly Shoppach. Give us your poor, your tired, your Mitch Talbots and Yohan Pinos.
But there’s one trade that seems to get overlooked when we think back to these days: moving Mark DeRosa to the St. Louis Cardinals for Chris Perez and Jess Todd.
It seems fairly accepted wisdom that the Indians got the better side of the deal. Even though Todd eventually flamed out (and returned to the Cardinals organization, last I heard) Chris Perez slotted immediately into the eighth inning role in front of Kerry Wood. By mid-2010, the Indians had moved Wood’s onerous contract to the Yankees, and had a somewhat established closer for what amounted to a few weeks of Mark DeRosa.
Why only a few weeks? Because shortly after the Cardinals acquired DeRosa, he sustained an injury to a tendon in his wrist which effectively ended his season (and probably his career; he’s not been an effective everyday player since).
So all-in-all, this was a dynamite trade for the Indians: trading an aging veteran whose value was likely to decrease for a young, cheap, durable player who filled an immediate and future need on the club. These are the sorts of moves that teams like the Indians need to make to be successful.
But there’s more to the story than this. When the Indians traded DeRosa to St. Louis, it wasn’t at all certain that Chris Perez was going to be the pitcher coming back. In fact, the Indians gave St. Louis a choice: DeRosa could be theirs for either Chris Perez or….Jason Motte. The Cardinals chose to keep the flamethrower Jason Motte and part ways with Perez. The rest is history.
For the first few years after the trade, the front office had to be thanking their lucky polo shirts that the Cardinals gave them Perez. Check out their respective lines for 2009-2010:
Perez had a better strikeout rate, homerun rate and ERA. He walked slightly more batters, but considering that for most of this time he was facing tougher AL lineups, it’s hard to argue that he wasn’t the better option.
Until, of course, 2011. This season, not only did Chris Perez’s numbers take a huge hit, but Jason Motte’s soared. Same chart, v2011:
*Lowest in AL among pitchers with at least 20 saves.
In every conceivable way, Jason Motte out-pitched Chris Perez in 2011: more innings, lower ERA, better K-rate, fewer baserunners. You name it, Motte wins it.
And now Jason Motte is the closer for a team in the World Series. He certainly isn’t the main reason they’re there. He probably isn’t among the top twenty reasons they’re there. But it’s worth wondering: would the Cardinals have been able to plug their leaky bullpen with a guy who boasts the second-worst strikeout rate among MLB closers?* Would the Indians be in better shape today had they acquired Jason Motte—the player who undoubtedly had higher upside—than the more polished Chris Perez?
*The winner of this dubious honor goes, of course, to Francisco Cordero of the Cincinnati Reds, who somehow managed to save 37 games while striking out only 5.43 batters per nine innings pitched. On the other hand, it should be noted that Cordero walked “only” 2.84 batters per nine, meaning that Chris Perez’s K/BB ratio was the worst among ALL closers. Hmmm….
I think the answers to these questions are probably up for debate, and it’s not like the Indians had any say in the matter anyway: the choice was the Cardinals’. Also, I don’t mean to rain on the Pure Rage Parade—like I said before, we certainly won the trade no matter how you look at it.
But with C-Pez’s arbitration right around the corner, I wonder if we haven’t already gotten more than we had any right to expect from Mark DeRosa. After all, if that trade taught us anything, it was about selling high. Just sayin…