All’s well that ends well? After months of lowballing and haggling, the Red Sox and Martín Pérez are officially in agreement on a new 1-year deal for the 2021 season with a club option for 2022.
To backtrack for a moment, Pérez signed a 1-year deal with the club last offseason that had a $6.85M option for this upcoming season. After a disappointing 2020 season that saw Boston finishing at the bottom of the division, with the 4th-worst record in Major League Baseball, the club tried to get Pérez to take a 56% pay cut. If this sounds insulting, it’s because it is, especially when you remember that all MLB players agreed to massive pay cuts as part of the agreement to start the season. And on an individual level, Pérez was the only pitcher in the rotation to stay healthy for the entire season. A low bar for success, to be sure, but I’m not the one who set it.
The argument for not bringing back Pérez was that they could use that small sum (his salary in 2020 amounted to less than 5% of the active payroll) to sign someone even better. But it’s mid-January now, and that better pitcher has not materialized. Instead, Red Sox Nation has watched teams like the Padres, Mets, and most recently, the Yankees, be the biggest movers and shakers of the offseason. On Friday night, news broke that the Yankees are bringing back DJ LeMahieu, who would have been a great fit for the Sox, and signing two-time Cy Young-winner Corey Kluber, who was also of interest to Boston, especially given that he and his family reside in nearby Winchester, MA.
This bring us back to yesterday, when it was announced that the Sox and Pérez are in agreement on a new deal valued at $4.5M with $500K in performance bonuses. If you ignore the above argument about looking for pitching elsewhere – Daniel Gossett and Matt Andriese barely count – the Sox went through this months-long conversation with Pérez all to save less than a million on his salary.
So why is Pérez coming back to Boston after this offseason ordeal? According to his camp, there are two major reasons. The first is that he “felt identified with the team.” Pérez embraced the Red Sox, their fans, and the city of Boston; not a particularly easy thing to do when you join a team in shambles with a heartbroken fanbase during a global pandemic. But Pérez seemed to take genuine pleasure in interacting with Sox fans on social media, thanking them for their support after every start, and having fun with the weekly trending #PerezDay, one of the few things Red Sox fans could look forward to last season. When I interviewed Pérez on the Girl At The Game Podcast in October, he had nothing but kind words for everyone here, and sincere hope that he’d return in 2021.
The second reason is not as cheesy, but far more interesting: Alex Cora. According to Pérez’s people, Cora was the reason he wanted to join the team in the first place. It ended up being a moot point, as Cora served his yearlong suspension for his role in the Houston scandal in 2020. But when Cora was rehired in the fall, it motivated the pitcher’s side to continue negotiating with the club for a 2021 deal. His camp told me that Pérez “respects and admires [Cora] a lot,” and wanting to play for him was a deciding factor in his decision to return.
This isn’t shocking, given how highly Red Sox players speak about their manager. Rafael Devers considers him a mix of older brother and father. Many players were vocal about wanting him to be rehired after his suspension. Before the scandals in Houston and Boston, Alex Cora was a well-liked, well-respected member of the MLB world. Like many, Pérez clearly still feels that way about him.
Rather than making serious upgrades to the roster, Bloom seems to be placing the bulk of the club’s hopes for 2021 on the premise that Alex Cora can right this ship. Can he fix Andrew Benintendi? Can he turn Rafael Devers’ defense around? Can he get strong outings from a starting rotation held together with tape and glue? Can he get results from the understaffed bullpen?
Pérez had other options on the free-agent market. According to his people, more than five teams had expressed interest in the veteran starter, who is heading into his 10th MLB season. But his desire to play on Alex Cora’s team outweighed all other options, and so, he’ll be in Boston again in 2021.
There’s no question why Pérez is back, just as there’s no question why Cora’s back. The question is how they’ll do now that they’re here.
Photo: USA TODAY