Associated Press photo
A bust with the Mets, Oliver Perez will try to straighten himself out with the Nats.
Why on earth would the Nationals take a flyer on a guy who was such a bust in New York that the Mets were willing to eat his $12 million salary earlier this week just to rid themselves of his presence in camp?
Surely, the Nats don't believe Perez is about to rediscover his lost velocity and command and become a trusted member of their pitching staff. Right? Right?
Rest assured, no one has any grand illusions about the 29-year-old left-hander starting 30 games in the majors this season and striking out 200 batters. Few have any reason to believe Perez will even appear in a big-league game for the Nationals.
But given the current lack of sure things in the organization's pitching ranks, and given the bare-bones price of signing Perez to a minor-league deal -- even if he gets to the majors, the Nats will only be responsible for a pro-rated portion of the big-league minimum salary of $414,000 -- there was virtually no risk to this move.
Perez had a good relationship with minor-league pitching coordinator Spin Williams when the two were together in Pittsburgh seven years ago. Back then, the left-hander was one of the hottest young pitchers in the game, having gone 12-10 with a 2.98 ERA and 239 strikeouts for the 2004 Pirates. He also possessed a mid-90s fastball that befuddled opposing hitters.
These days, though, Perez's heater tops out at 85 mph. And he has no clue where it's going to land. (More often than not, it's either behind the batter's head or over the left-field fence.) The Mets gave up on him as a starter, gave up on him as a lefty specialist and then on Monday gave up on him altogether.
"The velocity was not there. The command was not there," GM Sandy Alderson told reporters in Port St. Lucie upon releasing Perez. "It wasn't going to work in a starting role. It didn't appear as if it were going to work in a relief role, at least anytime soon."
Can Williams figure out what's wrong with Perez's mechanics and get him straightened out? Common sense says probably not. But the Nationals figured it's worth a shot, especially when it doesn't cost them anything.
Perez will report to minor-league camp and perhaps start the season with Class AAA Syracuse. If, by some miracle, he pitches well and the Nats are need of help at the big-league level, he could get promoted at some point during the season. But no one's counting on that happening.
Sadly, this remains the state of the Nationals organization. When Livan Hernandez is your Opening Day starter and Tom Gorzelanny is guaranteed a spot in the rotation regardless of how he performs in spring training, you're left scrounging the trash heap.
Perhaps some day, maybe even some day soon, the Nats will be in a better position as a franchise and not have to resort to such dumpster dives. Baseball America just rated this club's farm system 13th out of 30 in the sport, a moderate sign of improvement.
Stephen Strasburg is on schedule in his rehab from Tommy John surgery and could be back in the majors in September. Jordan Zimmermann has looked fantastic this spring and is poised to assume his place near the top of the Nats' rotation. Ross Detwiler and Yunesky Maya have made major strides and will pitch in the majors sometime early this season. Prospects Sammy Solis, A.J. Cole and others should ascend up the minor-league ladder in relatively speedy fashion.
The day is coming when the Nationals can field a contending roster in the big leagues and fill out more of their minor-league slots with actual prospects instead of filler. But it hasn't come yet.
And until it does, the Oliver Perezes and Chien-Ming Wangs and Dmitri Youngs and Bret Boones of the world will continue to have opportunities to don the curly W cap and attempt to resurrect their careers with a franchise that hasn't reached a point yet in which it can just say no to reclamation projects.