My father called the other day, the day after my birthday, to share a piece of information. He had not called the day before. He did not mention the anniversary of my birth. With barely-contained malicious glee in his voice, he called specifically to inform me that the Rockies were planning on signing Neifi Perez.
I wasn't living in Colorado when Perez had his first go-round with the club; my memories of him like my dad's are largely tied up with his miserable stint with the Cubs. Neifi Perez isn't a bad human being or a completely worthless baseball player. He's a slick-fielding defender who can play a bunch of positions and (I hear) a good clubhouse guy. The problem with him is that for some reason managers get sucked into playing him too much like sailors drawn screaming into Charybdis. Perez can field, but the futility of his offense is towering and dreadful. While a Cub Dusty Baker became convinced that Perez's scrappiness was somehow offensively valuable and sacrificed hundreds of meaningful outs to the cause of proving himself wrong. Clint Hurdle seemed like a new man down the stretch last year, but he is susceptible to scrappy and doesn't have that many (much better) options at second base.
So we're all off the hook, except my dad, because Neifi! isn't going to be in a Rockies uniform this season after all. I'm willing to take this decision at more than face value, because the Rockies have a terrible record in the last few years when it comes to letting nostalgia persuade them to make stupid personnel decisions. They've wasted roster spots on fork-riddled last-chancing no-hopers like Steve Finley and Andres Galarraga and Marcus Giles with alarmingly frequency lately. The same willingness to stockpile cheap veteran pitchers that makes Dan O'Dowd so good at keeping a rotation operational on a budget comes back to hurt the team when it comes to players who used to be able to hit but can't anymore. Then again that doesn't apply to Perez, who could never hit.
The deciding factor in talks with Neifi cooling down might well have been the fact that the infielder is under suspension for being caught using amphetamines. Even were he to beat out Giles and Clint Barmes and Omar Quintanilla (a similar player, except younger, cheaper, and fleeter afield) and others in camp he would have to miss 18 games. The Rockies, who care more about maintaining an organization full of good-character players than most MLB teams, have had about all of the fun with performance-enhancing drugs they want to have. Very quietly last week the team released statements from reliever Matt Herges and coach Glenallen Hill that confirmed the Mitchell Report's allegations that they had used steroids and apologized profusely. Herges doesn't rate as a big enough star to come under further scrutiny, and Hill isn't even playing anymore (although it is terribly sad now to think of the homer he hit out of Wrigley Field in '00 that was still rising when it hit a rooftop seat across the street from the park). There are bigger names on bigger teams that were not as quick to offer honest admissions and sincere apologies. If MLB was going to be at all consistent about its policing, it would suspend Herges now, but I think it's entirely possible that no one at the central office even read the Hill/Herges press release. They seem to be taking more of a "cut off the head and the monster will die" approach to the steroid issue, going after the big names only, and that seems like a flawed analogy to me. Anyway, if they're not going to suspend Herges now, I certainly hope they don't change their minds and do so at midseason (as part of a massive Mitchell justice package?) when the Rockies are bound to need their veteran bullpen-innings absorber.