The Kansas City Royals have made it fairly clear that they believe that Salvador Perez is a potential superstar behind the plate. Although I'm a bit more bearish on Perez's future than most, I still expect him to be an above-average major league catcher for the foreseeable future, as long as he can stay healthy.
Of course, they "staying healthy" part of the equation is not just a necessary qualifier but a legitimate concern. Perez had left knee surgery last season that caused him to miss the first 67 games on the season. Rany Jazayerli described Perez's potential health issues as " the 6'5" elephant in the room." Although Jeff's work on big catchers has helped ease some of my concern that Perez's height will not stop him from having a normal aging curve, I think there is still reason to be worried about Perez staying healthy throughout his career.
Given that Perez already has an injury history and that he is a bigger man, I think that the Royals need to be careful with how much playing time behind the plate they give him, especially if the Royals middle around .500 for most of the season.
I have been unable to track down any comments directly attributed to
Frank the Tank Ned Yost himself, but a quote from Mr. Jazayerl has raised some concern that the Royals might overuse Perez this season:
I hope Ned Yost is exaggerating when he talks about starting Salvador Perez eight days a week...
I could not find the source of the original quote, but I can't imagine Rany inventing the quote either. So I'm going to assume that it came from an interview Yost gave that I never listened to.
Yost was willing to give Jason Kendall 149 starts at catcher in 2008, but Kendall was established as an ironman at that point. Kendall also started 118 of 131 games for the Royals in 2010, which would have put him on pace for 146 starts if he hadn't undergone season-ending shoulder surgery.
So Yost has shown that he is willing to give one catcher the lion's share of the starts, if the situation is right. Whether he will start Perez that much in 2013 remains to be seen.
Once Perez returned from catcher last season, he started 78 percent of games at catcher. Over a full season, this would equal 126 starts for the young Venezuelan.
I think 126 starts for Perez at catcher this season is a fairly reasonable number of starts, especially if the team performs at the level that most projection system are suggesting they will. George Kottaras is a perfectly acceptable backup catcher and should not hurt the team when he is out there. Perez can also pick up some starts at DH and move Butler into the lineup to give Hosmer a few days off this year.
Perez may be able to handle a 140-game workload at some point in his career, but the Royals need to make sure that year really means something to Kansas City. If the Royals manage to stay in playoff contention for most of the season, I at least understand the argument to bump his start rate up to 86 percent to get him to 140 games. The extra 14 games Perez starts at catcher instead of Kottaras or any other backup would probably give the Royals an extra half-win, which could help the Royals make the playoffs in the right situation.
There is also no guarantee that starting Perez 14 less games during the course of the season will cause the catcher stay healthy long-term, but it should certainly help. At this point in his career and at the Royals development, there is not a lot of upside to giving Perez too many starts, while their is risk from having him catch too many innings. I hope the Royals resist the temptation to plug Perez's name in the lineup too often, and are as judicious with his starts as they were last season.