Today I start taking a look at each position for the Royals. I’ll look at what they have at the position now and where it looks to be headed in the next few years. Let’s start things off behind the plate.
There is no surprise here. Salvador Perez is the starting catcher for the Royals in 2021. After missing 2019 because of Tommy John surgery, Salvador Perez returned in 2020 to play in 37 of the team’s 60 games, but once again missed time, this time because of an eye injury. Perez enters the 2021 season in the final year of his contract. He will make $14.2 million in 2021.
Will the Royals sign Perez to a new contract? Both sides have to agree on that. I’m confident that Dayton Moore wants to do that. Moore has an incredibly tough time watching a player walk, especially a player who has meant as much to the team as Salvador Perez.
Perez will be in his age 32 season when he is a free agent next year. I’m not sure how much longer he will play behind the plate. The Royals played him at first base some in 2020. He could spend time there again this year as well as see some time at designated hitter.
Perez’s value decreases when he moves out from behind the plate, but that ultimately doesn’t matter. The goal is to build the best team. It doesn’t matter what production the team is getting out of any individual position.
The Royals signed Carlos Santana to a two-year contract this offseason, so it’s not likely that Perez will be moving to first base full-time if he does return in 2022. Of course, things also depend on what the club does with DH Jorge Soler. Perez could come back as a part-time catcher and part-time designated hitter, but not if Jorge Soler, who is also a free agent after this season, is signed to an extension. You aren’t going to sign Soler and then have him split time with Perez. And you are not signing Soler to play in the outfield. He’s a designated hitter.
Perez, who was billed as a terrific defensive catcher when he was first called up to the big leagues, has become one of the most reliable offensive players for the franchise in recent years.
If Salvy leaves through free agency after this season or is transitioned out of the catcher position, who do the Royals have to take his place? Cam Gallagher is a nice backup, but he’s not the answer for the starting job. The Royals could sign a free agent catcher, but that’s not the ideal way to fill the spot for multiple reasons, the biggest of which is that a good free agent catcher will cost more than the Royals will likely spend. For a successor, we look to the minor leagues.
The Royals have several catchers in their minor league system who were thought to have great potential. But as we have seen with prospects throughout time, potential can be a four-letter word.
In his most recent organizational rankings for The Athletic, Keith Law has two catchers in the team’s top 20 prospect list. MJ Melendez comes in at #17, and Sebastian Rivero comes in a #20. Here is what Keith wrote:
According to Keith Law, the Royals don’t have a catcher in their system who will be ready to step in next season and replace what Salvador Perez does for the team.
What the Royals Should Do:
Ideally, there would be a catcher ready to take Salvy’s place. And that could still happen if Melendez or Rivero has a significant development year in 2021. Yes, Salvy is a fun-loving guy who everyone loves to have around, but he is also a catcher who has missed games in each of the last four seasons with a back injury (2017), a knee injury (2018), Tommy John surgery (2019), and an eye injury (2020).
I would not sign Perez to a contract extension. He might be fine and play eight more injury-free seasons at his peak value. That’s fine. What the Royals cannot afford is to pay an injured catcher. The Royals need to be willing to let a player go a year early than keep him a year too long.
I would look to trade Perez to a contender by the trade deadline regardless of the situation the Royals are in, although I don’t expect them to be battling for a playoff spot.
What the Royals Will Do:
I expect the Royals to sign Salvador Perez to a contract extension and cross their fingers that he stays healthy.