The KC Royals need to get busy and forge a new deal with Salvador Perez, their star catcher who’s entering the final season of his contract.
Imagine, if you will, the KC Royals without Salvador Perez. Not a few years from now, but soon, no later than the end of the 2021 season when his current contract expires or (gasp!) even sooner if the club decides to move him at next summer’s trade deadline.
A departure under either scenario would be a premature and unnecessary conclusion to the Kansas City career of the franchise’s best-ever catcher. It would be the end, too, of John Sherman‘s honeymoon with the club’s fans, one extended by the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but sure to meet its demise if he lets Perez get away.
It could happen. Perez is indeed preparing for the final season of the five-year, $52.5 million deal he signed in 2017 when the Royals did the right and honorable thing and reworked the contract that had left him miserably underpaid.
Despite a 2019 season lost to Tommy John surgery, that value hasn’t changed. Perez is as indispensable to the franchise as ever, perhaps more. He’s the backbone and spirit of the club, it’s most visible leader.
The time has come for the KC Royals to wrap Perez up in a career deal. Kansas City can’t let him go.
That’s because this is, weak spots and all, a team on the way back. It probably won’t contend, at least not seriously, next season, but 100-loss campaigns are in the rearview mirror. The roster features more talent, both young and “old,” than it has since 2017 and, with a tweak here and there, the KC Royals could flirt with .500 in 2021.
But they need Salvador Perez to make it happen sooner rather than later. There is no other current Royal with his pizzazz, his likeability, his adorability, or his energy. He is the face of the team, the glue that binds it together. With Alex Gordon gone to retirement, Salvy is now the The Leader, the player to be looked to day in and day out.
And there is no other Royal on the roster, or in the pipeline, to take his place behind the plate. Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria are capable defensive replacements on Perez’s days off, and both call decent games, but their bats disqualify them from long-term duty. The team’s prospects are too far away from being ready. And financial considerations, including lost and never to be recouped revenues from the just-completed abbreviated season, complicate bringing in a backstop of Perez’s caliber.
Time and the rigors of catching will eventually catch up with Perez, and at age 30—he’ll be 31 in May—the baseball clock is ticking on the man who’s been, with the exception of 2019, the KC Royals’ primary catcher since 2012. He’s spent over 900 games behind the plate but, if 2020 is any indication, he has a good many years left.
All he did after returning from a season spent rehabbing from the surgery that repaired the damaged UCL in his throwing elbow—an ominous injury for a catcher—was slash .333/.353/.633, post a 161 OPS+ and hit 11 homers and drive in 32 runs in 37 games. Projected over the 138 games Perez averages, those numbers would have been even more astonishing. The vision problem that kept him from playing more this past season notwithstanding, Salvador Perez shows no signs of letting up.
And although he won’t win a sixth Gold Glove (he isn’t a finalist for the award this year), he didn’t make an error this season and his throwing arm doesn’t seem any worse for the wear after his Tommy John operation.
No, Perez is likely in his prime and it should last for a while. Nothing suggests his tank might be running low. The combination of will and ability is still there. He can hit and throw just fine.
That’s why the Royals need to make the money work. The bank is low on funds but the deal must be done. There are ways to pay Perez enough to stay for a long time and still spend on improvements and manage this offseason’s arbitration requirements. The departures of Gordon, Ian Kennedy and Matt Harvey (if the Royals move on from him, which they should) will decrease the club’s conservative payroll by millions, potentially freeing up some cash to throw in on a signing bonus for Perez.
Perhaps the franchise saves more cash by saying farewell to Danny Duffy, who’s also entering the last season of his contract; Duffy is a favorite of the club and its fans, but his value no longer approaches Perez’s.
And there’s always the option of backloading a new Perez deal to delay the biggest financial obligations until the KC Royals are winning and drawing bigger crowds.
Perez is a six-time All-Star, a two-time Silver Slugger, and has those five Gold Gloves. Catchers with those credentials don’t come along often. So Kansas City and Perez need to be talking. Soon. They need to get the deal done.
Salvador Perez needs to remain a Royal. The time is now.