By the title, you know the player featured as this week's "Foil." Neifi Perez was, shall we say, a very limited baseball player. His offensive short-comings will be documented here in a bit.
But Neifi as a "Foil" embodies many reasons the Cubs have stunk for so many years. He was a player with incredibly obvious flaws, brought in by a front office to solve problems he wasn't capable of addressing, and put in a perfectly predictable position to fail by his manager. We could pretty much call this the "Cub Trifecta of Incompetence."
So fail Neifi did. Mostly.
Yet, we can't, or at least shouldn't, call Neifi Perez a failure as a baseball player. He played all or parts of a dozen big league seasons, appearing in 1403 more major league games than I ever will. Just sticking in the big leagues that long is an accomplishment that Perez should be proud of. He played for five teams, starting with the Colorado Rockies in 1996 after being signed in 1992 by that club as an international free agent.
Perez was most known for his glove, including being tabbed as the NL's Gold Glove shortstop in 2000.
He joined the Cubs in August 2004 after being released by the San Francisco Giants. And, in what turned out to be a problem, he played well. In just 23 games to finish off the '04 season, Neifi managed the best offensive stint of his career. He hit .371/.400/.548. Of course, this was all amassed in just 67 plate appearances, a total that should be a meaninglessly small sample size. But Perez looked like Cal Ripken at the plate compared to the "offense" provided by Cub shortstops (Alex Gonzalez, Ramon Martinez, Rey Ordonez) in '04 to that date. Naturally, the Cubs' brass thought this is what they were buying (rather than the consistently subpar offensive numbers that Perez had put up during his career) when they turned the shortstop spot over to Perez full time for the 2005 season.
And oh, the humanity, of that 2005 season. Quick side note: for those worried about offense out of the 2014 Cub outfield, check out the three guys who got the bulk of the playing time that 2005 season. When you're done cringing, we'll turn back to Perez.
Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker put Neifi Perez in a position to be exposed. In turn, Perez produced an offensive season that could have been ticketed for indecent exposure. In 609 (!) PA, Perez hit: .274/.298/.383. He was the perfect kind of player to fool the then Cub brass: a good defender with an empty batting average. To hit .274 and still not have an OBP over .300 is a nearly amazing feat of futility. But Perez achieved just that by walking 18 times all season. That's less than once a week. Good old Dusty never had to worry about Neifi "clogging the bases," that's for sure. Three of the walks were intentional, so Neifi only walked 15 times thanks to his own effort. So, naturally, Dusty frequently batted Neifi near the top of the order.
Perez had a wRC+ of just 72 that season and managed to amass 1 WAR, thanks to his defense.
In a more reduced role in 2006, Perez managed to hit even worse: .254/.266/.343 before being dealt to the Detroit Tigers in late August in exchange for Chris Robinson. All told in '06, Perez was a below-replacement-level player, costing his teams (mostly the Cubs) a total of -0.7 WAR. He played in 33 more games the following season for the Tigers before calling it a career.
He ended up being "worth" -2.8 WAR over his career. That actually makes the 2005 season Cub fans look back on in disgust as one of Perez' most valuable seasons.
So what should we make of Neifi Perez and his time with the Cubs? There is a place for good defenders like Perez in the big leagues, but they really ought to be the worst bat in an otherwise strong offensive line-up. They probably shouldn't be full-time players and should hit at the bottom of the line-up. Those were lesson lost on "old school" Dusty Baker.
We are all hoping (with various levels of conviction) that the current front office has learned from these "Neifi lessons." And we all hope it results in a winner.