The Rangers are planning to meet with Martin Perez and his representatives at Octagon next week, general manager Chris Young said at today’s end-of-season press conference (Twitter link via Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News). Perez, a free agent, has expressed interest in re-signing with Texas at multiple points this summer, and Young went on record to express interest in retaining the 31-year-old southpaw.
Originally signed by the Rangers as an amateur out of Venezuela, Perez one ranked among the sport’s very best pitching prospects. He finished sixth in American League Rookie of the Year voting back in 2013 and looked very much like a pitcher on the rise; Perez inked a four-year, $12.5MM contract extension that included three club options after that rookie season.
Perez’s upward trajectory quickly hit a snag in 2014, however, as elbow discomfort sidelined him for much of the season and ultimately culminated in Tommy John surgery. He returned late in 2015, but Perez saw his command and strikeout rates both continue to trend in the wrong direction. He settled in as a back-of-the-rotation starter, bouncing from Texas to Minnesota to Boston before returning to the Rangers on a one-year, $4MM deal in free agency this past winter.
The Perez reunion was met with a healthy bit of skepticism, but he’s quieted naysayers with far and away the best showing of his career. In 32 starts and 196 2/3 innings, Perez worked to a 2.89 ERA, a career-best 20.6% strikeout rate and an 8.4% walk rate that was his third-best mark since returning from Tommy John surgery. Perez’s 51.4% grounder rate was his best mark since 2016.
There hasn’t been a radical overhaul of Perez’s pitch arsenal — no new, bat-missing slider that’s turned him into a dominant arm — but he’s succeeded with some more subtle changes. This year’s 27.7% usage rate on his changeup is the highest of his career, and Perez has increasingly favored his sinker, relegating his four-seamer and curveball to little more than occasional change-of-pace offerings. It’s been primarily sinker, cutter and changeup for Perez in 2022, and it’s hard to argue with the results.
For all the money the Rangers spent last year — more than a half-billion dollars in free agent contracts — the starting rotation remains in a state of flux. Last year’s main pickup for the starting staff, Jon Gray, posted strong results in his first season away from Colorado’s Coors Field, pitching to a 3.96 ERA in 127 1/3 innings but also missing time with minor knee and oblique issues. Right-handers Dane Dunning and Glenn Otto made 29 and 27 starts, respectively, finishing with ERAs in the mid-4.00s (though Otto’s strikeout and walk rates paint a more bearish picture). Texas has about $85MM on next year’s payroll, before considering a $6MM club option on Jose Leclerc and a small arbitration class headlined by Mitch Garver and Taylor Hearn.
Beyond that trio of Gray, Dunning and Otto, there’s no real certainty. Starting pitching figures to be a primary focus for the Rangers this winter, and while Perez may not be expected to repeat his 2022 excellence, he’d be a strong stabilizing presence and a nice early complement as the new-look Texas front office seeks a higher-profile addition for the top of the rotation. Perez has certainly earned himself a multi-year deal with that 2022 showing, and the question will now become one of whether the two parties can find a common ground.
Publicly stated mutual interest from the two parties is a good start but hardly solidifies that a deal will come together. If Perez does reach the open market, he ought to draw a fair bit of interest. He continued to command Major League contracts with decent guarantees even on the heels of lackluster performances, after all, signaling that teams throughout the league have long believed there’s another gear for him to reach. Now that he’s seemingly found that next level, that interest will only intensify.