The Nationals have taken their first significant step toward overhauling their bullpen, agreeing to terms Friday with veteran left-hander Oliver Perez on a 2-year, $7 million deal, according to a source familiar with the contract.
Perez, 34, has been around the block during a 15-year career featuring an assortment of highs and lows, but he has refashioned himself as an effective lefty reliever over the last few seasons and now has parlayed that into a multi-year deal, his biggest contract since a 3-year, $36 million pact with the Mets in 2009.
Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com was first to report Perez's signing with the Nationals.
Perez figures to assume the role held over the last year and a half by Matt Thornton, the 39-year-old who proved an effective matchup lefty but departed as a free agent at the end of the season. Interestingly enough, Perez's $3.5 million salary in 2016 is identical to Thornton's salary this year.
The Nationals have long been intrigued by the sidearm-throwing southpaw, having signed him to a minor-league contract in 2011. Perez wound up making 15 starts for Class AA Harrisburg, posting a 3.09 ERA but never earning a promotion.
The following year, he decided to refashion himself as a reliever, first with the Mariners. In the four seasons since, Perez owns a 3.31 ERA over 232 appearances with Seattle, Arizona and Houston, striking out 11.1 batters per 9 innings.
Perez's biggest issue over the years, and ultimately his downfall as a starter, has been erratic command. He has walked nearly 5 batters per 9 innings over his career, though that rate dropped to 3.7 once he made the full-time conversion to reliever in 2012.
Perez has enjoyed his best success against left-handed batters. For his career, they are batting .231 with a .681 OPS against him. This season, they hit a scant .181 with a .517 OPS, 33 strikeouts and only five walks.
The Nationals figure to use Perez in brief stints, matching up almost exclusively against left-handed batters. Fellow southpaw Felipe Rivero, who proved effective against batters from both sides of the plate as a rookie, would likely be used to pitch full innings late in games.
Perez's addition could be just the first of several changes the Nationals make to their bullpen this winter, with the statuses of closers Jonathan Papelbon and Drew Storen very much up in the air and Thornton, Casey Janssen and Craig Stammen now free agents. They remain interested in right-hander Darren O'Day, according to sources, though it's unclear if they're willing to meet the veteran's reported asking price of 4 years and at least $32 million.
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