For a team that only won 72 games last year, the Royals started spring training with very few real competitions in camp. We’ve discussed the fifth starter spot a few times now. Second base has been a battle going back to last season, and the bullpen has one spot left up for grabs right now.
The last spot to consider is that of Salvador Perez‘s backup. The Royals have claimed Brett Hayes and George Kottaras this winter with an idea of pitting them against each other. As Bob Dutton has pointed out, both are out of options and only one is expected to stay with the Royals. Now, the question is which one stays and which one goes?
Hayes is the better defender, but Kottaras is considered a better hitter (and has shown power and patience in the past). Despite the reputation, Hayes is doing well this spring:
The standard qualifier about this being spring training applies, and it’s also a limited sample size, so vast conclusions can’t be drawn from Hayes’s numbers (nor Kottaras’s) but the two homers could be enough to persuade the Royals to keep him.
Kottaras hasn’t had the power this spring, but he’s gotten on base, reaching 11 times (five walks, six base hits) in 27 plate appearances. He’s a career .320 OBP catcher, which is acceptable as a backup (Hayes, by contrast, is a .266 OBP player as a big leaguer). Neither are going to dominate but they’ll contribute, just in a different ways. We’re looking at 30-35 games maximum (ideally) for Perez’s off days, and possibly less than that even. But while it seems to be a small decision, consider this time last year.
Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero took over the catching duties when Perez went under the knife. Neither were effective. A strong backup catcher is often a luxury but when you have one ready to plug into the lineup, it’s a benefit. The Royals have to sort out who would best fit in a lineup long-term if Perez got hurt again while also figuring out who they think could do more in the short-term to cover the off days.
Can Kottaras’s defensive limitations be minimized if he’s only asked to catch 30 games a year? His bat would probably fit better with the expectations on Perez as a hitter this year. Or, if the Royals only see 25 games necessary to spell Perez, are they willing to go with the better defensive catcher in Hayes, knowing that his bat, while considered worse than Kottaras, is only going to be in a fraction of the team’s games?
To me, there’s more upside in Kottaras in short-term action and, if necessary, long-term as well. They do give up a lot on defense that way, though.
There are teams looking for catching now, though, which could help the Royals make their decision. The Angels are one team looking for another backstop, and the Royals might end up giving them the option of either backup and taking whichever gets the better return. My hunch is that they’d feel comfortable with either Hayes or Kottaras behind the plate and getting something in a trade is better than trying to sneak them through waivers. With Adam Moore and Manny Pina all set for Triple A, somebody’s going to end up in a new spot by the end of spring.
It looks as though Hayes is leading at this point, but the Royals haven’t tipped their hand on the matter. They have two weeks to figure it out.
UPDATE: The morning after this post was published, reports pointed towards the Angels signing catcher Chris Snyder. There should, however, be other teams looking for a backup catcher even if the Angels may not be any longer.