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Noticing Antonio Perez
2004-09-21 09:43
by Jon Weisman

Daily News staffer Tony Jackson discusses the Dodgers' September callups today, with the primary attention falling on Antonio Perez.

The 5-foot-11, 170-pound infielder has singled, doubled and been hit by a pitch in eight plate appearances this month. Perhaps what's most notable is that in this pennant race, Perez has been sent to the plate more times than fellow callups Jose Flores, Joe Thurston, Tom Wilson and Chin Feng-Chen combined.

Jackson writes:

At age 24, Perez already has been traded three times, which would be a red flag until you examine the circumstances of those deals. Originally signed out of his native Dominican Republic by Cincinnati in 1998, he was one of four players the Reds sent to Seattle two years later for Ken Griffey Jr. Two and a half years after that, the Mariners traded Perez to Tampa Bay for Randy Winn in a deal that also involved sending manager Lou Piniella from the Mariners to the Devil Rays.

Finally, two days before opening day this year, Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta acquired Perez from the Devil Rays for Jason Romano. Although he appeared in 48 big-league games last season, batting .248, it wasn't until this year, at Triple-A Las Vegas, that Perez truly blossomed. He hit .296 for the 51s, with 22 homers, 88 RBI and 22 steals. ...

The problem for Perez is a glass ceiling. Management isn't likely to break up baseball's best double play combination of Cesar Izturis and Alex Cora. But with at least a half-dozen major-league scouts attending every game, Perez also is auditioning for the other 29 clubs. And his production will enhance trade value this winter.

Everything that Jackson writes in the last paragraph is true. Cora's defensive skills are particularly important behind a starting rotation that doesn't seem to strike anyone out anymore - fewer than six per nine innings this year (although who knows how the rotation will look next year). Cora has made seven errors at the major-league level this year; Perez made 20 errors in Las Vegas.

Nevertheless, I can't help thinking that this coming March, DePodesta will want to take a long look at Perez, who also walked 61 times against 87 strikeouts in 125 games this season. Since the All-Star break, Cora's offensive production has fallen to a .325 on-base percentage and a .290 slugging percentage. He has seven extra-base hits in that time. In September, Cora has a .255 OBP and is slugging .188, with one extra-base hit.

The only areas where Cora has been consistent are walks and getting hit by pitches. After recieving eight stitch imprints before the break, Cora has been plunked nine times since.

In May and June, when Cora hit .468/.538 and .450/.400, he was perhaps the best overall second baseman in the National League - something not to be ignored. He will only be 29 years old next season, and though he will be due a raise on his $1.3 million 2004 salary, it shouldn't be an overwhelming one.

Also working in Cora's favor is how well he platooned with right-handed Jose Hernandez, who despite turning 35 this year, figures to return - also with a raise - after a 12-homer, .912 OPS season to date on an $850,000 contract. So if Perez can be flipped to another team in exchange for help at another position, DePodesta will no doubt go for it.

But despite The Ghost of Joe Thurston hovering about, it would be interesting to see what Perez can do in a Dodger uniform. And to think, all this for Jason Romano.

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