Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals, C, 26
Extension Details: Five years (’17-’21), $52.5 million
Career Statistics (5 seasons): 2,148 PA, .279/.306/.431, 102 2B, 7 3B, 65 HR, 3.69 K/BB, 100 OPS+, .318 wOBA, 100 wRC+, .263 TAv, 34 DRS, 11.9 fWAR
2015 Statistics: 553 PA, .260/.280/.426, 25 2B, 2 3B, 21 HR, 6.31 K/BB, 89 OPS+, .300 wOBA, 87 wRC+, .251 TAv, 5 DRS, 1.6 fWAR
After signing a five-year, $7 million deal in 2012 on the heels of a successful rookie season, the Venezuelan backstop impressed in his first three major-league campaigns. In 2011 and 2012, Perez hit an impressive .311/.339/.471, clubbing 24 doubles and 14 home runs in 463 plate appearances, while amassing 10 DRS behind the plate for Kansas City. In his first season as a full-time starter, Perez impressed further, batting .292/.323/.433 in 526 trips to the plate, pounding out 25 more doubles along with 13 home runs while adding 11 DRS behind the dish.
In 2014, Perez’s offensive production stagnated, and in 606 plate appearances he hit just .260/.289/.403, but added 17 home runs and 28 doubles to his career totals. Again solid behind the plate, Perez was still considered a top catcher in the game for the American League champion Royals. However, 2015 saw Perez’s offensive efforts continue to come up short, as he hit .260/.280/.426 in 552 trips to the plate. His extra-base hit totals were good again, contributing 25 doubles and 21 home runs, but his inability to reach via base on balls (career-low 2.4 percent walk rate) and low hard-hit rate (24.0 percent according to FanGraphs) called into question his true offensive abilities.
Long considered an elite defensive catcher, Perez’s defensive abilities have come into question recently, as the importance of pitch framing has been an object of much debate in recent years. According to defensive runs saved, Perez is quite the capable defender, but Baseball Prospectus’ new defensive catching metrics actually peg Perez as a defensive liability, as he’s earned a -37.4 FRAA (fielding runs above average for his major league career. According to BP’s metrics, Perez’s pitch framing is well below average, as he’s compiled -42.2 framing runs in his five years with the Royals. While many will still argue that Perez is one of the game’s best backstops, these new metrics certainly introduce a level of skepticism into his defensive prowess as an all-around catcher.
Moving forward, Perez’s value hinges on his ability to bounce back offensively from two down seasons in 2014 and 2015. While he has shown the ability to hit well in the past, Perez’s free-swinging approach is a source of concern for many, especially considering the rising ability of pitchers across the league currently. Another concern for Perez is his playing time. While many argue that his ability to play 130+ games at a valuable and physically demanding position give him added value, one can’t help but wonder if Perez’s innings behind the plate (over 3,500 in the last three seasons) will begin to catch up with him physically as he ages. Fortunately, he’s entering just his age-26 season, and likely has more than a couple of years of peak physical fitness ahead of him.
Perez’s contract is structured so that his paycheck will increase every year until 2020, topping out at $14.2 million for the last two years of his deal. Those will be his age-30 and 31 seasons, and by that time, Perez’s body may be worn down enough from four more seasons of catching duties, and he may well not be worth the high price tag when the time comes. However, the back-loaded deal means that the Royals will continue to get a relatively high level of value from Perez in the next few years, as long as his offensive numbers begin to climb back to where they were before 2014.