KC Royals: The important question of the 26th Royal

(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /
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KC Royals,
KC Royals, /

All-Star catcher Salvador Perez returns to the KC Royals this season after missing all of 2019 to a UCL injury and Tommy John Surgery. In case he isn’t at full speed by Opening Day, should the club use their 26th man slot on an extra catcher?

Salvador Perez, the backstop and backbone of the KC Royals who lost last season to Tommy John Surgery, returned last week, catching bullpen sessions and tending to other baseball duties when pitchers and catchers reported for spring training. He talks of readying himself to catch every game this season, but such is how a player of his Gold Glove, All-Star, Silver Slugger stature lets people know he’s confident about taking up precisely where he left off.

He won’t catch every game, of course. He’ll DH at least a few times as he always has, probably take a turn or two at first base, and probably take a few more days off. His body rested after a full year away from the rigors of catching, he’ll still need to cut back a bit, at least while he reacclimates to big-league life. The Royals will carry at least one backup catcher; they may be wise to add another in case things don’t go as planned.

For example, Perez’s primary backup–presumably Meibrys Viloria or Cam Gallagher, who were serviceable defensively in his absence last season, but who simply could not, and cannot, replace his bat–could get injured, forcing Perez back behind the plate on a needed day off. An extra catcher could save that precious day for Perez. Or Perez could injure his rebuilt UCL, or suffer some other malady. Carrying an extra catcher, at least early in the season, is a luxury the new 26th man spot affords the club.

Gallagher is the logical choice if Viloria is Perez’s prime backup, and vice versa. Matheny could turn to Nick Dini, who saw big league action last season when Gallagher was injured; although he didn’t play much, he learned at least some Royal ropes in the 20 games he did appear.

MJ Melendez is also in camp. A second-round Royals draft choice in 2017, Melendez hit 19 homers and drove in 73 runs in 111 A-ball games in ’18, but struggled at High A Wilmington last season with nine homers and a ghastly .163/.260/.311 slash in 110 contests; the fact the club invited him to spring training means he’s still in their plans.

Unless injury sidelines Perez for a significant time, the KC Royals have no need to pursue a trade for a star catcher–opposing clubs would demand the too-steep price of one or more of KC’s prized young pitching prospects, and the team’s chances of contending this season are too low for a trade of such magnitude, one that might solve a need in one area but set the franchise back in another. (If push came to shove, perhaps the Royals could swing a less demanding deal for an old friend and reliable backup Drew Butera, now on a minor league deal with Colorado).

Another backup catcher is an option for the 26th roster spot. Perez’s progression in Spring Training will determine whether it’s a need.