CLEVELAND — It was a foregone conclusion that Chris Perez would not be back with the Indians in 2014. But the end to the closer’s career in Cleveland did come sooner than expected.
Perez, who endured a rough final season this year, was released Thursday. Without an acceptable trade opportunity and with Perez eligible for arbitration after making $7.3 million in 2013, the Indians felt now was the time to cut their ties.
“We made the decision that Chris wouldn’t be a fit on the roster for next year,” general manager Chris Antonetti said. “It made sense to move forward now, rather than wait until Dec. 2 (deadline to offer Perez a contract for 2014). We considered a variety of factors as we got to that point. It gives us a chance to shape our roster and it allows Chris the opportunity to find his next team.”
On a more positive front, the Indians re-signed veteran Jason Giambi to a minor-league contract. Despite batting just .183 (nine home runs and 31 RBIs) in 71 games, the 42-year-old Giambi delivered some significant hits and is considered a valuable clubhouse leader.
“I don’t think there’s any better way to start the offseason than to re-sign Jason Giambi,” Antonetti said. “He had such a huge impact on our team this year. He embodies everything we’re looking for in our players.”
For Perez, a two-time all-star, it was a season on the brink. He dealt with a right shoulder injury most of spring training that resurfaced and led to a trip to the disabled list at the end of May.
While on the DL, Perez and his wife Melanie were arrested on a misdemeanor drug charge. He returned to the mound but wasn’t the same effective pitcher he was before the injury struck again, ultimately losing his closer job with three games left in the regular season.
“I think there were a number of things,” Antonetti said, when asked what plagued Perez (4.33 ERA, 25 of 30 in save opportunities) this year. “On the balance though, Chris was a meaningful part of this team for two years. Obviously, it was a tough situation at the end of the year.”
The GM was asked if the outspoken Perez, who criticized fans and the front office during his tenure in Cleveland, was a distraction.
“No,” Antonetti said. “Obviously, there were some issues we had to deal with over the past two seasons, but in the end, we won 92 games with him as the closer for the majority of the season.”
In an Indians career that spanned from 2009-13, Perez converted 123 of his 142 save chances, posting a 3.33 ERA over 267⅔ innings.
Antonetti said the move doesn’t necessarily mean the Indians will look to acquire a closer this offseason. If they don’t, it appears right-handers Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw will get the first opportunity. The Indians are likely to lose right-hander Joe Smith to free agency and Vinnie Pestano is a question mark after a highly disappointing 2013.
“I’m confident with the guys we have internally,” Antonetti said. “But I do think we will look externally to improve our team.”
The Indians have until Saturday to exercise an $8 million option for 2014 on right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez. One of the major’s best pitchers over the second half of this year, Jimenez is expected to decline the option and test the free-agent market.
“I would imagine over the next four or five days we’ll have more clarity,” Antonetti said.
The Indians made a minor trade Thursday, sending cash to the Padres for LHP Colt Hynes. Hynes, 28, spent the entire second half in the big leagues, posting a 9.00 ERA in 22 appearances, but limiting left-handed hitters to a .156 (5-for-32) batting average. Antonetti said Hynes would come to spring training with the opportunity to win a job out of the bullpen.