Oliver Perez proved to be one of the better comeback stories in baseball last season and the Mariners now are bringing him back for an encore after signing the lefty free-agent reliever to a one-year deal on Saturday.
Perez reinvented himself out of the bullpen last season after washing out of the Majors with the Mets in 2010, when he was released with $12 million remaining on his contract after struggling badly as a starter.
The Mariners saw renewed life in his fastball when he was pitching in the Mexican Winter League, however, and signed him to a no-risk Minor League deal last offseason. And once Perez was promoted to the Majors in mid-June, he proved very effective out of the bullpen as he posted a 2.12 ERA in 33 appearances.
Perez had the ninth-lowest ERA by an American League reliever with a minimum of 30 appearances and he ran off a stretch of 20 consecutive appearances from July 13 to Sept. 14 without allowing a run, tied for the fourth-longest streak in club history.
Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported the deal is for $1.5 million, with another potential $600,000 in bonuses. He pitched for $750,000 last year on a Minor League deal.
Perez is the second pitcher re-signed by the club, after starter Hisashi Iwakuma received a two-year, $13 million extension with an option for a third year on Friday night.
Perez and Iwakuma were two of Seattle’s five pending free agents. Starting pitcher Kevin Millwood, reliever George Sherrill and catcher Miguel Olivo are the team’s only remaining free agents on the open market, but none are likely to return.
Millwood is pondering retirement, Sherill is coming off Tommy John surgery and Olivo was let go when the club declined a $3 million option on his expiring contract.
“We are happy to have reached a mutual agreement with Oliver,” Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said in a statement.. “He did a very nice job in helping solidify our bullpen after his call up last summer. As a veteran left-hander, and one that had adjusted very nicely to his new role, we are looking forward to his contributions as we go into the 2013 campaign.”
With Perez’s signing, the Mariners’ 40-man roster now stands at 36.
Iwakuma, 31, would have become a free agent after Saturday if he and the Mariners didn’t come to an agreement, but the two sides hammered out a contract that includes an option for a possible third season in 2015 as well.
As first reported by Jon Heyman of CBSsports.com, the deal is worth $14 million for two years, with Iwakuma earning $6.5 million in 2013 and ’14, with a $1 million buyout on a $7 million option for 2015.
Iwakuma originally signed a one-year, $1.5 million base contract with Seattle last year as a free agent out of Japan.
“Kuma really helped solidify our rotation in the second half of the season,” Mariners manager Eric Wedge said. “He is a competitor on the mound and did a great job for us. He got stronger with each start during the season and gained confidence. I am looking forward to seeing him on the field ready to work when we start Spring Training in Peoria.”
Iwakuma went 9-5 with 3.16 ERA over 30 appearances in his first season in the Majors. He began the year as a long reliever, then transitioned into the rotation in midseason and went 8-4 with a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts.
Iwakuma’s ERA as a starter set a rookie club record, bettering the previous mark of 2.67 by Felix Hernandez in 2005. Among AL pitchers with at least 100 innings, his 3.16 ERA ranked seventh and he had the third-lowest ERA among AL starters with at least 15 starts.
Iwakuma had a potential $3 million more in incentive bonuses in last year’s contract, but didn’t reach any of that additional money since the escalator clauses began with 20 starts and 140 innings pitched, while he ended up at 16 starts and 125 1/3 innings.
That contract also included a stipulation that Iwakuma would become a free agent if no extension was agreed upon by Saturday. Iwakuma could have still re-signed with the Mariners in that scenario, but wouldn’t have been eligible to pitch until May 15, about six weeks into the regular season. Instead, Iwakuma agreed to the extension on Friday and now figures as part of Seattle’s rotation going into 2013.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pounder joins Hernandez, Jason Vargas and Blake Beavan as returning starters, with Erasmo Ramirez, Hector Noesi and young prospects Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, Taijuan Walker and Brandon Maurer also expected to contend for jobs next spring.
By keeping Iwakuma in the fold, the Mariners should be able to concentrate now on adding offense over the rest of the offseason instead of needing to add another veteran starter to their rotation.