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Maybe three isn’t a crowd

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Carrying three catchers doesn’t seem outlandish for the Royals

Sam Mellinger: Royals losing financially, too John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Yesterday the Royals placed Salvador Perez at the DH spot for the 28th time this season. That is a number that is approaching his career-high for starts at the position that he set in the 2018 season when he was put in that spot 30 times. It’s a position the Royals fans are likely to see him at more and more as he plays through his contract that extends through his club option season of 2026. Later in the game, they sacrificed the DH to pinch run for Cam Gallagher in the 11th inning and move Salvy behind the plate, and while that didn’t stretch into difficulty, it got me thinking about a future roster possibility next year and into future seasons.

Beyond Salvador Perez, the Royals have depth at the catching position with Sebastian Rivero and MJ Melendez in Omaha. The front office raves about both, and Melendez’s prodigious power has him second in all of the minor leagues with 31 home runs. Earlier this season, I wrote about how it seemed like the right time to deal Melendez for a piece that better positioned them for the future. That was written with the thought that he would lack a place to play with Salvador in front of him. That remains the case, but Perez is also hitting at a level that he’s no longer an offensive black hole at the position, even if he still lacks the walking power. Perhaps it’s time the Royals look at carrying a third catcher on the everyday roster?

Normally that would be pretty dumb, but the likely 2022 roster is going to have the type of versatility to make it plausible. Let’s just take a look at the possible suspects in the depth chat that make sense at some point to make this happen.

Salvador Perez C/DH
Cam Gallagher C
MJ Melendez C (LH)
Carlos Santana 1b/DH (LH)
Whit Merrifield 2b/RF
Nicky Lopez SS/2b (LH)
Bobby Witt, Jr. SS/3b
Emmanuel Rivera 3b/1b
Hunter Dozier 3b/1b/RF/LF
Andrew Benintendi (LH) LF
Adalberto Mondesi (SW) SS/2b/?
Ryan O’Hearn RF/1b/DH
Centerfielder?
Hanser Alberto 3b/2b/SS

These are the players under club control with the Royals for next season, and what stands out is the versatility of the players. Add in a centerfielder to the players in bold, giving the Royals 13 players to carry on the roster with the third catcher included. With this group of players, it’s not ludicrous to carry a third catcher each day because that roster has three shortstops, multiple middle infield types, and players that can play outfield. Additionally, adding someone like Melendez gives them a lefty bat off the bench or in the lineup versus right-handed pitchers, a role that Alberto and O’Hearn often get because the Royals lack lefty bats.

The trade possibilities of moving MJ or Sal remain but it’s not something that has to be. Of course, the big IF in this scenario is a healthy Adalberto Mondesi, but he doesn’t have to be a regular everyday starter in a regular lineup.

Future Lineup with Melendez
Whit Merrifield 2b
Bobby Witt Jr. 3b
Salvador Perez DH
Carlos Santana 1b
Hunter Dozier RF
Andrew Benintendi LF
** centerfield**
MJ Melendez C
Nicky Lopez SS
Bench
Adalberto Mondesi Bench
Cam Gallagher Bench
Ryan O’Hearn Bench
Emmanuel Rivera Bench

That gives you a pair of lefty bats on the bench, a speedy pinch-runner if needed, and a catcher if an emergency if needed in late-game scenarios. There are plenty of variables in these lineups that the Royals can create - popping Dozier into DH normally with Sal behind the dish and moving O’Hearn into the outfield and putting MJ on the bench, or maybe Mondesi can prove healthy and show he can play out there. It would seem likely that they would ask Mondesi to play some outfield in winter ball and spring to get some looks.

It’s still too early to check this out for Royals fans as MJ is still refining things at Triple-A, where he came into Wednesday night’s game hitting .231/.333/.462 in 12 games. Other holes on the roster could be addressed with a trade of the young top 100-ranked prospect, whether in centerfield, an additional corner outfielder, or a veteran starting pitcher. It’s something that GMDM will surely explore this offseason, and Melendez is likely to be the center of many of those talks. Any GM would have to do his due diligence and explore all possibilities this offseason for all trade options with a team at the bottom of their division and a depth of prospects.

Of course, not trading Melendez is a real option now, given the versatility of the other players on the roster. Not trading MJ could free up Salvador’s knees from crouching daily and keep his powerful bat in the lineup. If MJ’s bat is for real, the Royals could go from having one of the few teams with a 30+ home run catcher to having two catchers with 30 home run potential. Baseball has changed so much in recent years that this type of roster construction doesn’t seem as outlandish as it once did.