It's been a rough week for Oliver Perez, and given his overall tenure with the Mets, that is no small feat. Thanks to his 9.00 spring ERA and inability to throw strikes or reach 90 miles per hour with his fastball, the Mets removed Perez from consideration for the starting rotation. Those difficulties are likely to lead to Perez's failure in the bullpen, too, and his eventual release.
If this is where it ends, Perez will almost certainly be viewed as a cautionary tale from an acquisition perspective. After all, the Mets signed Perez to a three-year, $36MM contract prior to the 2009 season, only to receive 112 1/3 innings of 6.81 ERA pitching. So it may surprise some to find out that both times teams traded for Oliver Perez, they came out ahead.
The San Diego Padres signed Oliver Perez as an amateur free agent back in 1999. By 2002, he made his big league debut as a 20-year-old, displaying both the now-faded ability to strike batters out in droves and his still-present tendency to walk more than his share of hitters. Nevertheless, he offered tantalizing ability, leading to the Padres' decision to trade Perez, a 24-year-old Jason Bay and minor leaguer Corey Stewart to Pittsburgh for a 32-year-old Brian Giles.
While Giles had a decent-but-costly run of strong offense and diminishing defense for the Padres, Perez and Bay quickly made the deal look like a steal for the Pirates. Perez posted a 2.98 ERA in 196 innings, while Bay posted a .907 OPS and won the NL Rookie of the Year.
Put it wins above replacement terms, Perez earned a WAR of 5.1 in 2004, well above Giles' 3.0 and Bay's 2.2. In fact, Perez's 2004 was a more valuable season than any that anyone in the trade would enjoy, other than Jason Bay's 2009.
But contrast the $8.8MM salary Giles earned in 2004 with the $321K Perez took home, and $305K from Bay, and the gap becomes enormous.
Perez did go on to struggle in 2005 and 2006, with Bay carrying the lion's share of the value for the Pirates in subsequent years. Still, when Pittsburgh decided to unload Perez in 2006, it was the receiving team, the New York Mets, who benefited.
On July 31, 2006, New York traded starting right fielder Xavier Nady to the Pirates for Perez and Roberto Hernandez, a relief pitcher tabbed to replace the injured Duaner Sanchez. And while Perez struggled over the remainder of the 2006 season, he posted a 1.4 WAR in 2007 and a 1.5 WAR in 2008. By contrast, Nady provided -0.9 WAR in 2007 for the Pirates, and 1.9 WAR in 2008. Roberto Hernandez even chipped in another 0.2 WAR for the Mets at the tail end of 2006 to even out Nady and Perez that season.
Naturally, there are Mets fans who blame the trade for the subsequent contract debacle, just as a divorced couple often turns on the person who introduced them. Perez, in an odd bit of symmetry, followed his 1.4 and 1.5 WAR seasons in 2007 and 2008 with a -1.4 mark in 2009 and -1.5 in 2010, as if to erase every bit of good he'd done the team.
Still, all that proves is that signing Oliver Perez to a massive free agent contract hasn't been a good idea. Trading for Perez, on the other hand, is a winning proposition. Let this be a lesson to the other 29 teams, who probably have a few weeks at most before the only way they can acquire Perez is for free.