Kansas City Royal fans have a lot to be excited about with the approaching 2012 season. They have a roster full of exciting, young player with more on the way. And now the Royals are taking a page out of the Rays' small market handbook by extending contracts to young players. It was announced today that Salvador Perez was signed through his control years with a five year deal that will pay him $7 million. But some are ridiculing Perez for leaving money on the table. For example, here is a Jon Heyman tweet.
One agent on royals catcher salvador perez's $7M, 5-yr deal: "(royals gm) dayton moore must have been wearing a ski mask."
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) March 2, 2012
Someone has to be the voice of sanity here. Salvador Perez has played 39 games at the major league level. And that was after playing only 12 games at the Triple A level. Why yes, Perez set the world on fire in his 39 major league games. Yes, he put up a slash line of .331/.361/.473 after putting up a similar line together in his 12 Triple A games. As nice as that looks, it's a terribly small sample size to be getting this excited.
It's obvious that the Royals believe in this 21 year old Venezuelan. The team signed him when he was sixteen years old and they have gotten to see him play all through their minor league system. And catching is a premium need throughout Major League Baseball. Always has been. Always will be. So it makes sense for the Royals to tie him up for the next five years. But the rate is very reasonable considering the risk. And there is considerable risk.
For one, Perez has no plate discipline. You can't call his 4 percent walk rate for the Royals a small sample size because that rate is consistent for his entire minor league career. Fangraphs has him swinging at nearly 43 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. PitchF/X has him at nearly 38 percent. Whichever system you go by, that's a lot of swinging at non-strikes. It is very difficult for players of this style of offensive game to develop discipline at the plate as the years go by.
That said, there also has to be regression for his batting average once he gets more playing time. It would seem to be difficult to sustain a .362 BABIP over time. The one caveat with saying that is that Perez did whistle line drives at a 29 percent rate, which is extremely high. If that's the real Perez, then perhaps he can sustain the BABIP. But that doesn't seem likely either. What this observer sees is a guy who got extremely hot at the plate for 51 games last season between Triple A and the majors. Shouldn't we at least see how that pans out with more service time before we all jump on this bandwagon?
The next question is what kind of receiver he is. Perez only threw out 21 percent of base steal attempts last season. That's not very good. But his minor league record at such events is higher. But even there, his success rate lessened the higher he went in the minors and was at 33 percent in Triple A. Of course, a runner's success rate is due as much to the pitcher as it is the catcher, so it's hard to hold that against Perez.
Perez only made two errors in 39 games, so that's a good fielding percentage. Baseball-reference.com assigned him a negative value for his defense while Fangraphs gave him a positive value. If we average them out, Perez seems like a decent receiver. Since he caught so few innings, there isn't any framing value or blocking pitches in the dirt value was can gain for insight. He allowed only two passed balls but eighteen wild pitches. The latter seems high.
The bottom line here is that Salvador Perez is just a fledgling major league catcher. If left to his own devices, he would be looking at minimum salary for the next two to three years as he won't be eligible for arbitration until 2017. The Royals have taken an appropriate risk but not an extravagant one. Perez will get a bump in salary from what he would have made for the next few years. That should be enough time for the Royals to figure out what kind of player they have in Perez.