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Is MJ Melendez a valuable trade asset or a long-term part of the Royals?

The rookie was impressive this year, but where will he play?

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MLB: Kansas City Royals at Cleveland Guardians Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a run on catchers lately. Last week it was Willson Contreras, the top free agent catcher on the market, signing a five-year, $87.5 million deal with the Cardinals. In the wake of that deal, other teams seeking catchers have made their moves this week, with the blockbuster three-way deal yesterday that sent All-Star Sean Murphy from the Athletics to the Braves, with catching prospect William Contreras (Willson’s brother) going from the Braves to the Brewers. Veteran Christian Vazquez, fresh off winning a title with the Astros, signed a three-year deal with the Twins. Today, Mike Zunino inked a deal with Cleveland.

The teams that missed out on those catchers will still be seeking someone to be their backstop next year, including the Marlins, Rays, and Red Sox. The free agent market for catchers is thinning - Omar Narvaez, and Gary Sanchez are the only catchers left last year who could start. The Blue Jays have a trio of young catchers - Danny Jansen, Alejandro Kirk, and top prospect Gabriel Moreno - they may be willing to deal.

Another team that has some depth at catcher is a team that has yet to make a significant transaction this off-season - your Kansas City Royals. Between All-Star catcher Salvador Perez and promising rookie MJ Melendez, the Royals are more than set at the catcher position, but the question remains on how they will find playing time for both.

Last year, Salvy was the DH 40 times, and Melendez started 37 games in the outfield, allowing them both to play in the lineup. The Royals are anticipating Melendez pulling double-duty again, spending some time in the outfield, but also plenty of time behind the plate.

“He’s too young to give up on a premium position,” Picollo said. “It’s just a unique situation where you’ve got a guy that’s as decorated as Salvy that’s ahead of him. But we want MJ to catch.”

But would Melendez be better off learning the catcher position full-time? He was rated the worst defensive catcher in baseball, largely due to poor pitch framing. His outfield defense wasn’t much better, with Fangraphs ranking him 134th out of 147 outfielders with at least 300 innings in Defensive Runs Above Average. With more regular play, perhaps he could improve behind the plate.

That would likely require a trade, either of Melendez or Salvy. The 32-year-old Perez is still a productive hitter, batting .254/.292/.465 with a team-high 23 home runs despite missing nearly 50 games. Moving him to DH would make him a lot less valuable, and is also complicated by having Vinnie Pasquantino at the position. But trading him is also difficult. He has three years and $62 million left on his contract, plus he has the right to veto any trade as a “10-5” player. And that doesn’t even factor the difficulty of trading a popular club icon and former World Series MVP who has been the face of the franchise for nearly a decade.

So Melendez is not only easier to trade, but he has much more trade value than the aging Perez. The lefty hitter held his own as a rookie, hitting .217/.313/.393 with 18 home runs, good for a 99 OPS+. He showed a mature approach to the plate, and his 12.4 percent walk rate was the second-best by any Royals hitter in the last 15 years (behind Carlos Santana in 2021). He just turned 24 and would have five full years of club control remaining before he is eligible for free agency.

Because of all of this, other teams have been asking about Melendez, according to Ken Rosenthal.

Catcher MJ Melendez is drawing interest, but he hit 18 home runs as a rookie, also plays left and right field, and is under club control for five more seasons. The Royals probably are not inclined to move him, either.

Of course, the Royals should not trade Melendez just to trade him. But if the pieces don’t fit on a roster, you have to be willing to make deals to find the right lineup. Maybe the right lineup includes Melendez splitting time between two positions - Daulton Varsho of the Diamondbacks is in a similar spot, shuttling between catcher and the outfield. But being “transactional” doesn’t mean getting rid of players with little value. Being transactional means making the occasional trade that hurts if it brings back a piece you need. Melendez could be the trade asset that brings in a young pitcher, or fills some other area of need (third base, for example?)

On the other hand, Melendez is an athletic player who might be able to pull double duty, or even stick in the outfield full-time. He brings the kind of plate discipline the Royals haven’t seen in quite some time, giving them a valuable leadoff hitter with pop. Those kind of players can help you win games as well. Sometimes the pieces don’t fit quite right, but you make do the best you can with unorthodox arrangements.

What do you think? Should the Royals be shopping Melendez to get a young, valuable piece in return to fill another need? Or can he work as a long-term player in this lineup?


What should the Royals do with MJ Melendez

This poll is closed

  • 32%
    Look to trade him in the right deal
    (240 votes)
  • 67%
    Hold onto him as a long-term player in this lineup
    (492 votes)
732 votes total Vote Now