Longtime major league pitcher Oliver Pérez will retire after playing out the 2022 season with the Toros de Tijuana of the Mexican League, the Toros announced (on Twitter) last week. When the 40-year-old does officially step away, it’ll mark the end of a professional career that spanned over two decades.
He began that run in April 1999, signing with the Padres as an amateur free agent out of Mexico. He spent the next few seasons ascending the minor league ladder, reaching the majors before his 21st birthday in 2002. He spent around a year with the Friars before they shipped him alongside Jason Bay to the Pirates for Brian Giles.
Pérez was downright excellent during his first full season with the Bucs. He tossed 196 innings of 2.98 ERA ball in 2004, striking out 29.7% of opponents. That came at a time when the leaguewide strikeout rate was far lower than it is now, and Pérez’s mark trailed only those of Randy Johnson and Johan Santana among 89 qualified starters.
Even at his best, Pérez struggled somewhat to throw strikes. Walks became an increasing problem, and the southpaw had his share of ups and downs over the next few seasons. Pittsburgh traded him to the Mets as part of a package to acquire Xavier Nady at the trade deadline in 2006, and he logged the next four and a half seasons in Queens. Pérez had a pair of productive seasons to start his Mets tenure, combining for a 3.91 ERA across 371 frames between 2007-08. Yet his walk and home run rates spiked to untenable levels the following couple seasons, and the Mets moved him to the bullpen midway through the 2010 campaign.
After spending 2011 as a starter in the Nationals’ system but failing to return to the majors, he moved to the bullpen full-time. That proved to be a career turning point for Pérez. He’d enjoy a decade-long second act as a reliever, bouncing between a handful of teams but generally thriving in a situational role. Working in shorter stints, Pérez proved more successful than he’d been as a starter with regards to throwing strikes. He posted an ERA below 4.00 in all three seasons from 2012-14 while playing for the Mariners and Diamondbacks. His ERA spiked over the next three seasons, but Pérez consistently posted strong peripherals in relief during stints with the Astros and Nationals.
After minor league deals with the Reds and Yankees didn’t result in a big league opportunity, Pérez looked as if he might be nearing the end of his career in 2018. He caught on with the Indians midseason, though, and he proved an invaluable weapon for skipper Terry Francona down the stretch. The veteran specialist impressively made 50 appearances from June 2 onward, working to a 1.39 ERA with a 35.8% strikeout rate and a 5.8% walk percentage.
That offseason, he returned to Cleveland on a one-year guarantee with a vesting option for 2020. He triggered that provision by making 67 appearances (with a 3.98 ERA) in 2019. Pérez continued to get solid results during the shortened season, but his peripherals went in the wrong direction. He re-upped with Cleveland on a minor league deal last winter. While he made the roster out of Spring Training, the Indians designated him for assignment in late April. Pérez latched on with the Toros in May. After pitching to a 2.63 ERA in 24 outings with the Mexican League club, he’ll return for another season in Tijuana to finish out his career.
Pérez had a winding, remarkable run during his time in the majors. He appeared in 19 of the 20 MLB seasons between 2002-21, suiting up with eight different clubs at the big league level. While he never established himself as a consistently productive rotation member over multiple years, Pérez posted top-of-the-rotation numbers over a full season in 2004 and intermittently looked like a solid starter at other points. Yet upon reinventing himself as a reliever, he proved a reliably effective option for various clubs. From 2012 onwards, Pérez posted a 3.42 ERA over 490 relief outings. He was especially challenging for same-handed opponents, holding lefty batters to a cumulative .229/.300/.337 slash in that time.
Overall, Pérez posted a 4.34 ERA in 1,461 2/3 big league innings. He punched out 1,545 batters, was credited with 73 wins and held 105 leads in a set-up capacity. According to Baseball Reference, Pérez earned a bit under $53MM in salary over the course of his lengthy big league career. MLBTR congratulates him on his accomplishments and wishes him all the best in his upcoming season with the Toros and his post-playing days.