Hernan Perez is the Detroit Tigers’ second utility infielder. In the 51 games that the team has played during the 2015 baseball season, Perez has made 34 plate appearances, with a batting average of .061, an on-base percentage of .088, and a slugging percentage of .061. As Rob Rogacki wrote in this article, he is hitting worse than the average pitcher. Defensively, he is, at best, a third string defensive player at any given position.
The team doesn’t need two utility infielders. Andrew Romine is a better option at any position where Perez could play. Situations have arisen where manager Brad Ausmus looks to his bench in a key, late inning situation, and all he’s got is Perez. The truth of the matter is that Perez serves no useful purpose on this team. So, why is Perez still on the Tigers' major league roster?
The easy answer, and the accurate one, is that Perez is out of options. Having been optioned to the minor leagues in three previous seasons, he can no longer be sent to the minor leagues without first clearing waivers. The organization believes that Perez is still a developing player with the ability to be a useful major league player, and he could be lost on waivers if they tried to send him to Triple-A Toledo.
It is not fair, and not accurate, to measure Perez’s value by looking at his numbers for just the 2015 season, or at his career numbers, for that matter. This is a player who showed promise at each level of the minor leagues as he made his way up through the organization. In his most recent full season at Toledo, he posted a batting line of .287/.331/.404/.735 with six home runs, 53 RBI, and 21 stolen bases. In 2013, he hit .301/.330/.410/.740 with 28 steals.
Perez has athletic ability. His defense has improved at every infield position. He was signed as a teenage prospect out of Venezuela, and moved slowly but surely through the organization, making adjustments and improving at each level, until he ran out of time, and out of options. He is still just 24 years old. He simply lacks a meaningful role on the Detroit Tigers in 2015.
What are the alternatives? First of all, what do the Tigers need that keeping Perez on the roster is preventing them from having? The team could use a left handed hitter, especially with Victor Martinez and Alex Avila both on the disabled list. Tyler Collins was called up, but Ausmus insists on playing Rajai Davis, even against right handed pitchers. If they were to call up a left handed hitter such as Daniel Fields, Dean Green, or Steven Moya, they would likely replace Collins, rather than risk losing Perez on waivers.
The team could use an upgrade at third base, where Nick Castellanos is struggling with a line of .230/.276/.366/.643. He ranks dead last among American League third basemen, with a WAR of 0.1 runs below replacement level, per Fangraphs, and he strikes out more than 25 percent of the time. If there was a third baseman in the organization who would be an improvement (Joey Pankake(s), anyone?), replacing Perez would be an option, although Castellanos does have options remaining.
The Tigers will not keep Dixon Machado, their top infield prospect, on the bench. Josh Wilson is a capable utility infielder, but has a career .226 average in 1149 major league plate appearances.
If the team could get something useful for Perez in a trade, they would surely consider it. But what general manager would give up a useful player for an .061 hitting backup utility infielder? For that matter, what general manager would claim such a player on waivers, knowing that he’d have to remain on the major league roster because he is out of options?
Sending Perez to Toledo would involve designating him for assignment. The club would have 10 days to trade him or put him on waivers and risk losing him or, if he clears, sending him outright to Toledo. The Tigers would like to get some production out of the players that they develop, such as Castellanos and Perez, but how long do they stick with a player who isn't producing before they move on?
There is risk involved in putting Perez on waivers, but what is the reward? If there is a player available that would provide some real value, then a move should be made. If the result is to replace Perez with another player who plays about as much as he does, then what’s the point?