It’s funny, really. Sometimes the world tries to tell us something, and we don't listen. I remember the anticipation that was being built up before what to most was just another Royals game. For Royals junkies like me (and probably you), this was not just some game. No, this game meant more. It marked the birth of our savior, our “salvador,” if you will.
August 10, 2011, changed the destiny for the Kansas City Royals forever. Salvador Perez, a catching prospect from Venezuela, would be making his big league debut in a Royals uniform down in Tampa Bay. I remember the irony of what I was watching at the time. “Salvador,” in Spanish, translates to “savior” in English. The Kansas City Royals’ savior was about to make his debut, and most people probably didn’t even realize it.
Fast forward six and a half years, one Silver Slugger Award, four Rawlings Gold Glove Awards, five All-Star Games, and one World Series MVP Award later, the Kansas City Royals’ savior has made his name well known. Salvador Perez helped to save the Royals organization from the grips of mediocrity, and now it’s the Royals turn to save Salvy.
Since 2013 (Salvy’s first full big league season) he has caught 63 more innings than anyone else, just ahead of Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. After Yadi, however, the gap really isn’t close. Jonathan Lucroy comes in third on the list, 591.1 innings behind Perez. Salvy has been a tank behind the plate. He’s been a constant in a lineup that lives on continuity, at a position where continuity can be rare. He’s given the Royals everything he has over the last six six seasons, and he’s earned a bit of a break.
Salvador Perez is owed $48.3M over the next four seasons. As long as Salvy is playing Gold Glove caliber (ish) defense, hitting 25+ home runs, and staying healthy, he’s going to be worth the contract, regardless of the Royals record. The problem is, banking on Salvy to do all three of those things successfully while catching over 1,100 innings per year is risky business. In order to ensure that Salvy is able to live up to the value of his contract, the Royals need to start finding breaks for Salvy much more frequently than they have been.
Luckily for Kansas City, the time is perfect to begin giving Salvy days off. The Royals are set to begin a rebuild that the organization expects to last for 3-4 years. The Royals are currently projected to lose in the neighborhood of 90 games in 2018, so it won’t be critical for the Royals backstop to be behind the plate seven days a week.
Salvy’s contract is up after the 2021 season, the same season that Kansas City’s front office expects to begin competing again. The timing lines up perfectly for Salvy to hand the torch off to my favorite Royals prospect, MJ Melendez. By 2022, the Royals may not need Salvy’s services anymore, but they still have to get through 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 with Salvy first.
In order to get through the rest of this contract as efficiently as possible, Salvy’s gonna need some rest in 2018. This ought to be easy for Ned Yost. Drew Butera has been an adequate backup in his time in Kansas City. The Royals owe Butera $2.3M in 2018, and may as well let him play since he’s practically guaranteed a roster spot. Butera calls a decent game, works well with the pitchers, and isn’t completely miserable to watch at the plate.
Here’s my proposal:
The Royals don’t need to do anything rash early on. Just don’t ask Salvy to catch every game in a week. If you play seven games in a week, let him DH one and sit another. A pace of five games per week across the course of a 26 week season would equate to about 130 games, and 1,170 innings for Salvy. That’s still too many. Luckily, the Royals only play seven games in a week nine times throughout the season.
In 13 weeks of the season, the Royals only play six games. If Salvy sticks to the routine of DH one game a week and sit another, you can knock off an additional 13 games from his workload, bringing him to 117 games in 2018, and 1,053 innings. That’s still too many innings for Salvy in 2018, in my opinion.
The Royals string of luck will continue, however, come September when rosters expand to 40 players. Cam Gallagher will be brought up to a full-time position on the big league roster (if this hasn’t happened already) and the Royals will be carrying at least three catchers. Come September, Salvador Perez doesn’t need to be catching more than three times per week. Knock an additional six games off of Salvy’s plate and he’s all of a sudden down to 111 games and 999 innings, which is over 100 innings less than his average number of innings between 2013 and 2016 when he was healthy for most (if not all) of the season. Salvy’s innings were down to 941.2 in 2017, but he was also injured for much of the year.
I’m not sure what the Royals actual plans are moving forward. I have my opinions of what they should be, but it’s nearly impossible to tell what they’re really thinking. The best thing for the organization in 2018 would be to commit to a full rebuild, which would mean losing a decent chunk of games. If you’re probably going to be doing your fair share of losing anyways, you may as well protect your most valuable long-term assets while you’re at it. There’s no sense in using up Salvy’s legs in a season in which the plan ought to be rebuilding. Save those legs for when you think it matters next, and your star catcher is 31 years old on an expiring contract.