If you squint…Yeah, this Royals season wasn’t going anywhere anyway. Sorry, not sorry. This team is staring down the barrel of a 90+ loss season. The news that Salvador Perez is likely to miss the entire 2019 season due to UCL injury, while devastating for Royals fans, doesn’t equate to much in terms of impacting any sort of pursuit of the postseason.
There’s no question that Salvy is the heart and soul of the Royals. It would be a challenge to find a Royals fan in this city that doesn’t love Salvy. Both of my boys have Salvy jerseys, and about the only part of a Royals game they will stop to watch is when Salvy is hitting, or when he’s dumping Gatorade on someone.
There are, however, some silver linings to this development.
Do you remember the absurd contract the Royals originally had for Salvy? After playing just 39 games in 2011, the Royals inked Perez to a 5 year, $7 million contract. The contract also featured three team-activated options, essentially making the deal 8 years, $21 million.
This was an incredibly savvy move for the Royals. They certainly liked what they saw, but still had no way of knowing Perez would blossom into the player he is today. They hedged their bets with that original deal. At worst, there was little doubt that Perez would become a solid backup catcher. So, they dangled multiple years of guaranteed millions in front of the young Venezuelan, and he pounced. Keep in mind, the average salary for someone without a college degree in Venezuela is about $8 per month. EIGHT. DOLLARS. PER. MONTH.
With that, the Royals knew they’d either have a reasonably priced backup catcher for years to come, or they’d have an absolute steal if Perez amounted to anything more than a backup. I’d say after six All-Star Games, five Gold Gloves, and a World Series MVP they got a bit more than a backup catcher.
That original contract was set to expire after the 2019 season. Had that contract remained intact, this injury would be a complete disaster for the Royals. It would’ve meant the Royals missed their opportunity to potentially trade Salvy, which would’ve really bolstered their rebuilding project, and possibly have to watch him go to free agency after the empty 2019 season.
Whether they were shamed into it, or felt guilty, or both, the Royals brass intervened after the 2016 season, and rewarded Salvy with a new 5-year/$52.5 million contract. The new contract would keep Salvy a Royal through 2021.
I had pretty mixed feelings about the new contract. Economically, the original deal was a huge win for the Royals. Paying pennies on the dollar for a talent like Salvy just doesn’t happen, and likely provided them with enough financial flexibility to spend elsewhere. It also enhanced his trade value if/when the Royals elected to do so. A player like Salvy, on that cheap contract, would’ve fetched a haul on the trade market.
In the end, the Royals did the right thing by awarding him with a contract more commensurate to his ability/accomplishments.
Dayton Moore truly does make his personnel decision with his heart first, with good business strategy being a fairly distant second. This is why we saw the new contract for Salvy. This is why we saw the long-term deal for Alex Gordon. This is why you saw him opt to hang on to Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas to the very end, and completely ignore their peak trade value.
Nobody likes to see the organizational fire-sales after a championship season, but when you empty the cupboard (in terms of prospects) to bolster a post-season run, there’s really only one way to replenish. For the past few seasons, the Royals have been regarded as having one of the worst minor league systems in all of baseball. Imagine how quickly that system could’ve been replenished had they traded off their big pieces after the 2015 World Series, or even after 2016 when they finished 81-81. We’d likely be staring at a top tier minor league system, and poised to make another run at the postseason, or at least taking healthy strides toward it.
This is where the new Salvy contract gives Dayton Moore a reprieve. Yes, Salvy is going to miss all of 2019 (presumably). This season wasn’t going anywhere special whether Salvy or Johnny Bench was behind the plate. Missing a year of the wear and tear that goes with being a catcher, on a season that has no real expectations of success, maybe isn’t the worst thing in the world.
The prognosticators have pegged 2021 for when the Royals should start emerging as a postseason threat again. 2021 is significant for a couple reasons. One, Salvy will be 31 years old for that season. Not terribly old by any stretch, but I just don’t see him aging gracefully behind the plate. He is a big man—6’4”, 240-250lbs—and takes a lot of punishment back there (much of it due to his size). I think it’s reasonably safe to assume that we’ve seen Salvy peak as a Major League baseball player. Had he been healthy this year, he was coming off career lows in batting average (.235), on-base percentage (.274), and a decline in WAR for the third consecutive year (if you’re into that kind of thing).
Secondly, 2021 is the last year on Salvy’s current contract. I don’t know that the Royals would be willing to dole out big money for an aging Salvy, and make him one of the cornerstones going forward at 32 years old. I suppose, if they want to prolong his career, and save his knees, they could pull him from catcher, and make him a first baseman or designated hitter. The problem with that being that he doesn’t hit well enough to provide any value at either of those spots.
In the end, what’s best for the Royals, is for Salvy to return in 2020 healthy and ready to make a splash. When that 2020 trading deadline rolls around, Moore has got to act, and flip Salvy for the best haul he can get. It stings, I know. That will be a sad day, especially since Salvy has gone on record as stating that he’d like to follow in the footsteps of guys like George Brett and Frank White and be forever Royal. But there will be some real value in that trade since his contract is still very reasonable, he’d still be under contract for 2021 as well, and he’s Salvador freaking Perez.
You just don’t find guys like Salvy very often. He shows a true passion for the game, and plays it right. By all accounts he’s a great teammate and leader, and you just won’t find many who are as universally loved as Salvador Perez.
That being said, making that deal, hopefully sees Moore putting his head before his heart and adding the final pieces to what will be the next great Royals squad.
Photo Credits: Charlie Riedel – AP Photo