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What are the catching options with Salvador Perez out?

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Should the Royals look at internal options or bring someone in?

Chicago White Sox v Kansas City Royals Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Royals weren’t expecting to contend for a title this year, but it was still a devastating blow when they got the news that All-Star catcher Salvador Perez had injured the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. This type of injury frequently leads to Tommy John surgery, which frequently takes an entire year to recover from. The Royals will know more Tuesday when Salvy visits. Dr. Neal ElAttrache to get a second opinion.

The best case scenario still involves Salvy being shut down for an extended period of time to allow the UCL to heal, which means the Royals should plan on being without him for at least the start of the year. Cam Gallagher figures to get much more playing time, which could be a good thing for the young pitching staff. But who will split playing time with him as the second catcher?

If the Royals decide to go with internal options, it looks like Meibrys Viloria would have the inside track to get the opportunity. Viloria is just 22 years old and spent most of last season in High-A Wilmington where he hit .260/.342/.360 with six home runs in 100 games. But he did make a big jump to the big leagues in September and the front office and coaching staff have been impressed with his glove and developing bat. Manager Ned Yost recently raved about the young catcher to Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star:

“What I liked the most about Viloria was he wasn’t overwhelmed by the situation,” Yost said. “He’s a kid coming out of A-ball, came to the big leagues and completely held his own, offensively, defensively. I don’t care what he does offensively. Just handle the pitching staff, and he did that really well, handled the pitching staff, blocked balls, received well, threw well.”

Viloria held his own in the advanced Arizona Fall League last year, showing a patient eye and impressing scouts with his defense. He is already on the 40-man roster, which would give him an inside track on anyone else that would have to be added. The Royals would likely be looking at him as mostly a catch-and-throw guy, without any expectations on his bat. He has shown an average walk rate in the minors and brings a left-handed bat to the lineup.

Other internal options would include Nick Dini, an under-the-radar prospect who has hit at each level until last year, when he struggled at AA. The 25-year old Dini hit .239/.278/.361 ih 80 games at Northwest Arkansas last year without much power. The Royals could also look at Xavier Fernandez, who has showed more offensive potential and is just 23 years old, but like Dini, would have to be added to the 40-man roster. The Royals would almost certainly not turn to young prospects MJ Melendez or Sebastian Rivero.

The Royals seem very impressed with Viloria, but the jump to the big leagues would be a big one, and he could be overwhelmed by Major League pitching. As Clint Scoles points out, the Royals may not want such an inexperienced backstop handling their pitching staff as they try to develop young arms.

If the Royals look at external options, there are a few ways they could go. Martin Maldonaldo is the best free agent catcher left on the market, and Jon Heyman reports the Royals have made contact with him. Maldonado is not much with the bat, hitting .225/.276/.351 with nine home runs in 119 games split between the Angels and Astros last year, but he is known as an excellent pitch-framer. He finished tops in Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs in 2017, when he won the Gold Glove over Salvy, and he continued to fare well in the metric last year. Last year he threw out 48.5% of runners on attempted steals, barely edging out Salvador Perez for best in baseball.

The Royals could decide to start Maldonado to begin the year, with the hopes of flipping him at the deadline to make room for Viloria later in the year. The Angels netted prospect Patrick Sandoval (now ranked #19 in their system by MLB Pipeline) and international bonus slot money for Maldonado last summer, and assets like those could be valuable to the Royals’ rebuild. However the Royals also may benefit more from seeing what Gallagher could do, rather than start a guy like Maldonado. Other free agent catchers include Evan Gattis, who hit 25 home runs last year, but is considered a poor defender, and Bruce Maxwell, who was controversial for kneeling for the anthem and was arrested once for pointing a gun at a delivery driver.

The Royals could look to make a trade, looking for a veteran or someone out of options that is unlikely to make the Opening Day roster of their current squad. That would allow them to get a long look at Gallagher, while using the veteran guy as a “depth” guy and a stop-gap until Viloria is ready or Perez returns. Here are a few possibilities.

The Red Sox have said they do not plan to keep all three catchers they carried last year, and Blake Swihart could be the odd man out. The 26-year old is out of options and could provide positional flexibility all over the diamond, but he may not have the defensive acumen behind the plate the Royals are looking for. The Royals could instead grab his teammate, Sandy Leon, who isn’t much with the stick, but is noted for his game calling, which could help develop young Royals pitchers.

John Ryan Murphy is out of options with Diamondbacks, and may be behind Alex Avila and Carson Kelly on the depth chart. Murphy fared well in framing metrics last year, and the 27-year old hit .202/.244/.375 with nine home runs in 87 games.

Salvador Perez could ask Travis d’Arnaud about UCL injuries, as the 29-year old Mets catcher missed all of last season following Tommy John surery. He hit 16 home runs in 2017 with good framing numbers, but could become expendable with Wilson Ramos, Devin Mesoraco, and Thomas Nido all in Mets camp.

Old friend Erik Kratz has Yasmani Grandal and Manny Pina ahead of him in the depth chart in Milwaukee. The Royals would know what they’re getting with Kratz, having acquired him in 2014. He’s a pretty good framer and can hit for some occasional power, but he’s also 38 years old.

Another old friend who could become available is Drew Butera. The long-time Royals backup is in Philadelphia now, fighting to make a roster that already has J.T. Realmuto and Andrew Knapp behind the plate. The Royals obviously liked what Butera brought, but aside from 2016, he was very offensively-challenged, and his defense isn’t very good according to many metrics.

Perhaps more likely, the Royals could offer “cash considerations” to a team for a AAA catcher with some Major League experience, someone like Juan Centeno or the Rangers, Francisco Pena of the Cardinals, Adam Moore of the Rays, or Juan Graterol of the Reds.

Poll

What should the Royals do to replace Salvador Perez?

This poll is closed

  • 52%
    Go with Meibrys Viloria
    (482 votes)
  • 30%
    Bring in Martin Maldonado
    (280 votes)
  • 9%
    Make a minor trade for a backup
    (92 votes)
  • 7%
    Other
    (69 votes)
923 votes total Vote Now