Royals Extend Salvador Perez, the Most Royals Player

The one conversation we continue to have about the Royals to this day is whether there’s just something about them that the numbers aren’t seeing. I think we’ve all agreed the Royals have deserved to be pretty good of late, but to be as good as they’ve been — let’s face it, the pro-Royals side has plenty of ammunition. They’ve played like something greater than the sum of the roster’s parts, and that’s where there could be a disconnect. One idea is that a team is the sum of its parts, plus or minus however much randomness. A counter-idea is we’re missing some kind of human element, in our haste to try to see the future. This would be where the Royals have perfected a magic formula.

If there’s one player who might adequately represent the Royals in a nutshell, it’s Salvador Perez. You could always try to go with Alcides Escobar, on account of #EskyMagic, and that’s fine, but I think Perez is a little more fitting. Perez is still young, and he’s obviously talented. Looking at his numbers, there are things for us to like, and there are things for us to not like. Objectively, Perez appears to be a good but flawed player, yet if you listen to the Royals themselves, they think of him as the heart and soul. They see him as the most important player on the roster, and over the last three years, the Royals have won 57% of the time when Perez has started, and they’ve won 49% of the time when Perez has been on the bench. Just as there might be something about the Royals, there might be something about Salvador Perez. It’s just another conversation for all of us to have.

One conversation we never needed to have: whether Perez’s old multi-year contract was team-friendly. It was stupid team-friendly. More than maybe any other deal, depending on your own Perez evaluation. Teams don’t often willingly amend such lopsided agreements, but the Royals wanted to keep Perez happy. So now that old contract has been torn up, and Perez has been more adequately rewarded for everything that he’s meant.

Call it a smart and atypical move, on the Royals’ part. Call it a necessary move, on the Royals’ part. There are plenty of team-friendly contracts out there, but not many to such an extent, so we don’t have a lot of situational comps. All that’s really important here is that Perez is being treated fairly. Maybe this is something the Rays would’ve been willing to do, and maybe it’s not. Perez just cares that the Royals did it.

The old contract was going to give Perez a pittance in 2016, and then there were to be three consecutive club options, worth a total of $16.5 million. It’s laughable to look at now, given what Perez has become, so now we have new agreed-upon terms. There’s the same 2016 pittance, but Perez is being given a $6 million signing bonus. The club options are now all guaranteed, and combined they’ll be worth $20.5 million. And to top it off, there are two more guaranteed years after the three, each worth $13 million. In all, Perez is guaranteed an extra $36 million over two years, and some of that payment is coming up front. Perez now has unimaginable security, and the Royals have their long-term catcher, having eliminated any real risk of discontent.

Without knowing the risk of Perez becoming unhappy, I see how you could argue the Royals should’ve just stuck to the terms they already had, but this really doesn’t introduce that much risk. The Royals were presumably already going to exercise all those club options, and then the money on the back end is mostly far away. Extra revenue has poured in from the deep playoff runs, and it makes sense to reward a core player in his mid-20s. No, the Royals didn’t have to do this. But there was risk if they didn’t, and now they could still benefit in 2020 and 2021.

That’s maybe the biggest question mark — how Perez is going to age, after absorbing such a massive workload. The last three years, not even including the playoffs, Perez has caught almost 400 innings more than any other catcher. He’s been very nearly an everyday player, and he’s taken it, even though there have been signs he’s worn down. He’s also generally just a bigger dude, so the idea exists Perez could go through an early physical decline. Catchers routinely take a beating, and Perez is always catching.

Yet Perez is now under contract through age 31. Looking at some other heavily-used young catchers, Ted Simmons stayed pretty valuable until 34. Gary Carter stayed pretty valuable until 33. Johnny Bench, 33. Ivan Rodriguez, 35. Russell Martin is still valuable. Brian McCann is still all right. Joe Mauer is into his decline now, but he’s dealt with concussion symptoms, and he’s into his 30s. I think we can safely assert that catchers decline sooner than the average player, but there’s soon and there’s really soon, and I think it would be aggressive to say Perez will break down around his 30th birthday. Especially if the Royals lighten up on him a little bit. If ever there were a time to abuse your body, physically, it’d be in your early 20s. Perez has managed.

The workload is something to monitor. Perez’s health is something to monitor. For the time being, the Royals consider Perez to be a star. The numbers disagree, and here’s where there’s more uncertainty. Offensively speaking, Perez has trended in the wrong direction. He’s also not yet 26, and he’s a catcher thrust into a starting role on a contending team. Could be, this is what Perez is. Could be, there’s more in there.

Behind the plate, Perez seems like a fine game-caller. He doesn’t profile well as a pitch-receiver, and this became something of an issue with Johnny Cueto, but Perez is a steady influence, and he blocks pitches well, and he’s got a strong arm. Perez is a defensive plus. At the plate, he’s frustrating, because he doesn’t seem like he has a plan beyond “swing at it.” He just posted one of the lowest walk rates ever — I mean ever — with his OBP dropping to .280. There hasn’t yet been enough power to rescue Perez’s line, as it’s dropped from the level of his debut.

There have been little adjustments. Perez has become more aggressive with pitches away, trying to counter the pitchers who want to get him to swing off the plate. As a side effect, Perez has hit more of his grounders up the middle, instead of pulling them. Perez also just hit a career-high 21 homers, so the power’s gone up as the OBP has gone down. He has the profile of a hacker. Every year, he’s seen fewer and fewer pitches in the zone.

The last two years, Perez has been a below-average hitter. If this is what he is, he’s sort of an offensive approximation of A.J. Pierzynski. Never so bad you want him out of the lineup, but not so good you want him in the middle. In this scenario, Perez shines for his durability and his game management. But to go back to Ivan Rodriguez for a moment — maybe we can’t yet rule that out. Rodriguez was always a free swinger, but then he hit a power peak as he entered his later 20s. Through age 24, Rodriguez had a career 94 wRC+. From 25 through 32, he had a 126 wRC+, while still swinging away. Rodriguez would be a best-case scenario, but the door is still open. Perez remains a young player.

No matter what, he’s a good young player. He’s a critical part of the Royals, and now he should remain as much for the better part of the next decade. With the new terms, Perez is locked up to a deal that’s less team-friendly. Should he go the Ivan Rodriguez route, however, the Royals would come away looking brilliant. The story of Salvador Perez’s contract renegotiation is over. The story of his career has plenty yet to be written.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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6 years ago

One should also take into account what this does for the perception of the Royals organization in extension and free agent negotiations. It’s certainly better to be seen as an organization that treats its players fairly, than to be seen as one that leaves one of its most important players out in the cold.

6 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

This is the same organization that gave Hochevar a 2-year deal knowing he’d be out the first year after TJ and looks like they’re about to do the same with Holland. And never forget how they handled Greinke’s social anxiety early in his career.

Much better than a team that would bicker with their young staff ace over a few tens of thousands of dollars on his final pre-arbitration contract (nice job Pirates).

6 years ago
Reply to  tz

Thank you for your valuable input, Mr. Boras.

6 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Or maybe it sets a precedent for current players who want their contracts restructured too?

Yordano Ventura is signed to 5/$23M… you don’t think he could say “Well you did it for Perez…”

6 years ago
Reply to  Shauncore

Perez’s contract was 5/7M. It’s not even close.

6 years ago
Reply to  LHPSU

Exactly. The nearest precedent I can think of was the extension that the Rays gave Longoria when he was midway through his own ridiculously cheap deal. In both cases, the team made it a point to keep the current “face of the franchise” through most of their productive years.