As was written multiple times over the last several weeks, there are some questions as to whether the Royals are really rebuilding. Being bad almost always accompanies rebuilding but rebuilding doesn’t always accompany being bad. In other words, you can be bad and also not be building towards the future, and the Royals seem to be on the brink of that position.
This nebulous position has been confirmed by several confusing, and at times ongoing, decisions by the front office and even Ned Yost. The signing of Lucas Duda and Jon Jay. The trading of Miguel Almonte. The early focus on getting Paulo Orlando and Ryan Goins in the lineup and the great Abraham Almonte Leadoff Experiment. These decisions are head scratchers at their best and make no sense at their worst.
Another one of those decisions has been keeping 25-year old Cam Gallagher on the bench during Salvador Perez’s absence in favor of 34-year old Drew Butera. The move isn’t frustrating because Gallagher is the future of Royals baseball, but because it’s just so confusingly predictable. A similar situation happened last year when the Royals traded for Melky Cabrera and opted to move around Jorge Bonifacio’s at-bats instead of Alex Gordon’s.
Of the first 15 games, Gallagher has played in six of them - one of which was as the designated hitter and another in the nightcap of a double-header last night. Butera hasn’t gotten Sal-type innings, but he has been the starter in Perez’s absence.
Now, nobody would argue that Gallagher is definitely the future of Royals catching. But still, why Butera? He is almost a decade Gallagher’s elder and is cemented in his role as a Major League back-up. We have no idea what Gallagher can do in full-time action and one of the few benefits of being a bad team is that you can play guys who are wild cards with the hope that you might find a diamond in the rough.
What makes this even more confusing is that Gallagher isn’t much of a wild card, when compared to Butera. He’s much younger than the heart of the Royals rotation and doesn’t have a long history with Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, or Jason Hammel, but he does have that history with Jakob Junis and Eric Skoglund.
You could also make the very strong case that Gallagher is outright better, or at least has more short term upside, than Butera. ZiPS has liked Gallagher more from the beginning, even with a projected .586 OPS that seems unlikely. However, we know this isn’t about their actual ability. Neither of them are going to be productive at the major league level this season. It does reflect on the Royals history of weird roster decisions.
I love Drew Butera. He drew an absolutely massive walk in game four of the 2015 ALDS and wound up catching the final out of the World Series. He and his hair are fairly beloved as backup catchers are considered. But the fact that he was signed to a two-year deal last offseason in and of itself is questionable, not even factoring in current circumstances. Gallagher was a cheaper option for a team strapped for cash and hoping to compete.
Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger has been openly critical of owner David Glass not opening up the checkbook to go after Josh Reddick back in late 2016 and days after his first column hit the presses, Kansas City traded Wade Davis for Jorge Soler. What I am not doing is suggesting that had the Royals not signed Butera, they would have been able to sign Reddick.
However, I think it is worth looking at why a team with a cash problem was so quick to sign a replacement-level catcher when they had a cheaper, younger replacement-level catcher in the system already. And with the 2016 team failing to reach the postseason, it is certainly worth asking why Gallagher is watching more baseball than he’s playing with the championship run officially over.
Perhaps I’m being a little too dramatic. After all, Cam Gallagher is not the future of Royals catchers and with Perez’s rehab moving along quickly, he’ll be back in AAA soon. However, this is yet another example of a team failing to move forward into the rebuilding process.
The Royals are already strapped for talent and have years of poor drafting to make up for. The rebuild, as it looks right now, won’t be short. There is absolutely no reason to delay it by keeping youth of any kind on the bench.