Rumors regarding the Kansas City Royals extending Salvador Perez have been percolating all off-season, and on Tuesday the Royals announced that they had agreed to a five-year extension with the All-Star catcher. The deal works out to be $52 million from 2017-2021, guaranteeing the three club options with a slight raise over those years, tacking on two more guaranteed years, and giving Salvy a $6 million signing bonus this season.
Salvy's previous contract guaranteed about $7 million over five seasons. After 2016, he would have had three years of club options with about $15 million left to earn. The likelihood of the Royals exercising all three of those options was extremely high - even if Perez continued his downward trend across offensive categories, he would still be worth what the team was going to pay for him.
Speaking about his offense, his weighted runs created plus (wRC+) has declined three straight seasons. The high water mark of his half-season rookie year set the bar at 114 wRC+. Last year, it was 87. While his home run totals have increased year over year, his overall offensive output has nosedived. Among qualified catchers, Perez had the second-worst on-base percentage, trumping only Wilson Ramos of the Washington Nationals, a similar glove-first catcher without the praise, accolades, or hardware. Ramos put up a wRC+ of 111 in 2011 and 113 in 2013, sandwiched around a season lost to injury. Since then, his offense has declined while his glove has remained above average.
That is not to say that they are identical players, but they are more similar than say, Perez and Yadier Molina, who often get associated with one another. While Molina potentially represents a best-case scenario for Perez, he would have to improve both offensively and defensively to match Molina's production over similar-age seasons. The mean is more likely closer to Ramos. Considering Perez's reduced hitting profile, that is becoming more realistic by the season.
We can quibble over why Perez is declining offensively. Overwork is often thrown around, and while it may be true that it would behoove the Royals to locate a backup they feel comfortable starting more than twenty times a season, it can not fully explain a consistent, multi-year decline.
But let's assume that Perez's decline has now peaked, or valleyed, I guess would be the proper term for it. Let's assume that, for the next six years, he will average 1.5 fWAR a year as a player. Does a catcher with an OPS of .714 warrant more than four years and $17 million? In other words, would you give Wilson Ramos a six-year contract for $60 million?
Some have suggested moving Salvador Perez to first base or designated hitter to save his body from wear and tear. However losing Salvy's defensive ability behind the plate eliminates much of his value. Putting his bat at those positions puts the Royals at an offensive disadvantage. Here are the first baseman/designated hitters since 2000 who have put up a sub-.310 on-base percentage as Salvy has, according to Baseball-Reference.
Salvy's career slugging percentage is .431, so the Royals will be looking at C.J. Cron-type production from Salvy, with no defensive value.
Considering the injury risk of catchers - and Perez has already had a meniscus tear, at least one concussion, finger injuries, a wrist injury, and several bumps/scrapes/contusions, I just don't see how guaranteeing to keep Perez around for more than the next four years is a safe bet. Guaranteeing the next four years? Definitely. Giving him a slight pay bump over those four years? Sure. Most players, particularly those in the minors (and making league minimum) should be making more. Perez's deal has been talked about for a while now as being the most team-friendly deal in baseball. Paying the World Series MVP and three-time All-Star catcher just $7 million over five seasons looks bad, even though it was never going to be just five years and $7 million.
This is not to say this is a bad deal on its face. He is still not among the top five highest-paid catchers in the game, by annual average salary. Even with his usage, his batting profile, the inherent injury risk of the position, it is a deal that pays Perez roughly what his value should be, presuming, of course, that he stays healthy, does not decline anymore, and does not switch positions.
But the Royals already had Salvador signed to a very club-friendly deal keeping him in Kansas City through 2019. There does not seem to be much reason to have given him a longer-term extension. The Royals will now have Salvador Perez through his age 32 season, and they better hope he can stay behind the plate. "World Series MVP", "Gold Glove-winner", and "All-Star" are all nice titles to have. "Starting first baseman/designated hitter Salvador Perez" does not sit well with me, not when your OPS over the last two seasons is floating around .700.