The Rangers and left-hander Martin Perez have voiced hope of working out an extension since this summer, but with the team’s five-day exclusive negotiation window nearing its end, a multi-year deal isn’t close, Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets. Texas is “likely” to make a qualifying offer to Perez if a multi-year deal can’t be agreed upon, Morosi adds.
A $19.65MM qualifying offer for Perez would’ve seemed unthinkable not long ago, but the 31-year-old lefty parlayed his one-year, $4MM Rangers reunion into a legitimate case for a multi-year deal in free agency (and, thus, for a possible QO). Perez ranked tenth among all big league pitchers with 196 1/3 innings pitched in 2022, and his career-best 2.89 ERA ranked 14th among qualified starting pitchers (and 23rd among the 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings pitched).
Perez’s breakout comes on the heels of a five-year stretch that saw him pitch to a 5.05 ERA in 611 2/3 big league innings for three different teams (Rangers, Twins, Red Sox). Despite persistently lackluster results, he continued to receive Major League deals in free agency, inking one-year pacts with the Twins, Red Sox and Rangers along the way. That, coupled with Perez’s longtime standing as one of the game’s premier pitching prospects (albeit more than a decade ago), suggested that teams see a bit more to him than his rudimentary numbers might otherwise indicate.
In 2022, Perez at last made good on those repeated shows of faith, but the reasons for his breakout are more subtle than other pitching breakouts we’ve seen in recent years. Perez didn’t add a lethal new breaking pitch, nor did he enjoy a pronounced spike in his velocity.
Rather, Perez made alterations to the same five-pitch mix on which he’s relied for some time now. This season’s 36.9% usage rate on his sinker was his highest since his last run with the Rangers in 2018. His 27.7% usage rate on his changeup was a career-high — but only by a matter of a couple percentage points over his 2020-21 levels. Perez has largely scrapped his four-seamer (6.5%) and curveball (3.5%), using them as show-me offerings that complement a heavier three-pitch reliance on his sinker, changeup and a cutter he implemented with the Twins in 2019. Neither the four-seamer nor the curveball, however, were prominently used pitches for Perez in recent seasons anyhow.
The biggest contributing factors to Perez’s success in 2022 might be ones that teams have a hard time buying into. His 0.50 HR/9 mark was miles better than his career 1.07 mark (and, particularly better than the 1.39 rate he’d yielded from 2018-21). Perez’s 77% strand rate is a hefty eight percentage points higher than his career norm. Add in the fact that he’ll turn 32 next year and again look to his modest track record prior to 2022, and there are enough red flags that Perez would seem likely to be ce capped at a three-year deal in free agency.
Granted, a three-year deal — even one at a lower rate than the qualifying offer — could still guarantee Perez quite a bit more than he’d earn by accepting a one-year commitment. That’ll be the question that he and his representatives at Octagon have to weigh; is it worth forgoing a guaranteed $19.65MM to lock that might be more in the $12-13MM range over a three-year term? Would a team even offer such a deal, knowing it’d also have to punt a draft pick (or multiple picks) in order to sign Perez?
Conversely, accepting the one-year term has its own risk-reward benefits. Repeating his 2022 excellence (or even approximating it) and returning to the market with a stellar two-year platform and without the burden of a qualifying offer — players can only receive one in their career — would set Perez up for a much larger deal than he could expect to command this winter. On the other hand, an injury or reversion to his 2018-21 form could potentially cost him $10-20MM over what he might get on a three-year deal.
Just where the two parties stand isn’t yet clear, but Perez has made no secret of his hope to remain in Texas long-term. “I want to be here and stay here, 100 percent,” the left-hander said back in July before adding: No — make it 300 percent.” Whether that exuberance manifests in a deal — and the extent to which the Rangers could be posturing in an effort to push Perez closer to a deal — will become clearer Thursday when qualifying offer decisions are formally due.
Locking in Perez, if he were to accept a qualifying offer, at $19.65MM would push the Rangers’ projected payroll to about $133MM, not including pre-arbitration players (hat tip to Roster Resource’s Jason Martinez). That would already be within $10MM of 2022’s Opening Day mark of $142MM, but the Rangers have taken payroll as high as $173MM in the past (2017) — and that was before they opened a new ballpark. General manager Chris Young has already plainly stated that the team’s payroll will increase in 2023, so there’s little reason to view a potential $19.65MM salary for Perez as any kind of burden that would hinder them from making further additions.