Brewers sign former closer Perez to Minor League contract
Two-time All-Star will compete for bullpen role in Spring Training
MILWAUKEE -- The Brewers' search for a reliever with closing experience led them to former Indians All-Star Chris Perez, who signed a Minor League contract Wednesday with invitation to big league Spring Training camp.
Perez, an All-Star in 2011 and '12, has dealt with off-field drama and on-field struggles over the past two seasons, but is just 29 years old and averaged a 94.3-mph fastball last season with the Dodgers, his best velocity since 2010. Wednesday's agreement was precipitated by a meeting about 10 days ago in Tampa, Fla., with Brewers Minor League pitching coordinator Rick Tomlin and pro scout Cory Melvin.
Perez would earn a $1.5 million base salary if he makes the roster, with a chance to top out at $3 million if he's in the big leagues all season and hits every incentive in his contract.
"He's geared up to get back to where he's pitched before," said Brewers general manager Doug Melvin, who is also Cory's father. "Sometimes with relievers, they have good years, bad years and can bounce back. He's got a good enough arm."
Perez took over as Cleveland's closer in 2010 and, over his first three seasons in that role, compiled 98 saves with a 1.137 WHIP. But he began to fade in '13, pleading guilty to a drug charge after a package containing marijuana was sent to his home. He converted 25 of 30 save chances, lost the closer's role in late September as Cleveland chased a postseason berth, and was let go in October.
He signed with the Dodgers for 2014 and posted a 4.27 ERA in 49 games as a setup man. When Perez was struggling with unfamiliar mop-up duties in early August, the Dodgers placed him on the disabled list and sent him to a nearby Class A affiliate. When he returned, Perez pitched a spotless September, logging seven scoreless appearances while holding hitters to an .087 average.
This is the first time in years that Perez will report to camp without a Major League deal.
"But it's the same as going onto the Dodgers. I have to pitch to make the team," Perez said. "Last year, [the contract] was guaranteed, but money wasn't a big deal to them. I didn't feel really comfortable until I made it out of Spring Training. Same here; I need to win a spot, which is fine. I'm healthy and I'm confident."
In the market for experienced bullpen arms all winter, the Brewers have had recent talks with the Phillies about closer Jonathan Papelbon and with agent Scott Boras about the return of free agent Francisco Rodriguez. Melvin offered no updates on either of those possibilities Wednesday in the wake of the Perez news.
The Brewers plan to enter the season with Jonathan Broxton as the closer. Left-hander Will Smith and right-hander Jeremy Jeffress figure to fill setup roles, and both have closer potential. The Brewers also have right-hander Brandon Kintzler and newly signed left-hander Neal Cotts penciled in for spots. Perez would join a group of players vying for other openings.
Among active relievers, Chris Perez is 15th in saves and Jonathan Broxton is 18th.- Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) February 5, 2015
"The one thing is, I think we're creating competition," Melvin said. "You just can't commit seven guys to the bullpen; you have to have some flexibility. But whether it's the offseason or in season, you're always looking to improve your ballclub."