It’s been percolating under the surface the last few months. On Monday, Jon Heyman threw it out there: The Royals and Salvador Perez are talking about restructuring his contract.
Royals are quietly trying to rework/extend sal perez’s historically team friendly pact. big plus if done by upcoming fanfest
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 25, 2016
To call Perez’s contract “team-friendly” is an affront to team-friendly contracts. Signed nearly four years ago, it continues to be the standard of bad decision making by a player and his agent. Maybe “bad decision” is a tad too harsh, but it was difficult to imagine how Perez wouldn’t be worth more than the Royals were paying at this point in his deal.
To fully comprehend how team-friendly this contract is, we need to jump into the wayback machine to when Perez and the Royals reached their agreement. At that point, Perez had been a major leaguer for two months, making his debut in Tampa on August 10 of 2011. The Royals paid money upfront for Perez’s first three years of club control – about $3.25 million against the roughly $1.5 million he would have made had the Royals just renewed his contract every year. Where things got crazy was in the arbitration years. The Royals agreed to pay Perez $1.75 million in his first year of eligibility in 2015, $2 million for his second year, and they hold a team option at $3.75 million for what would have been his third and final year of arbitration eligibility.
To gain perspective, it’s useful to find comps. According to Baseball Reference similarity score, Wilson Ramos is among Perez’s top 10. Ramos was eligible for arbitration for a third time this winter, and coming off a down offensive season, signed for $5.35 million. Last year, his second year of arbitration eligibility, after playing in just 88 games the year before, Ramos inked a deal for $3.55 million.
Ramos gets very positive marks for his defense, but has been plagued by injuries over his career and has never won a Gold Glove. Nor has he been an All-Star. Fold into the comparison equation that Perez has seen his home run production climb each of the last four years. Remember, when an arbiter decides a contract, the arguments are weighted toward accomplishments and raw counting numbers. OPS+ and WAR aren’t much of a factor. Home runs and RBI count. I would imagine the same holds true with defensive metrics. Particularly for catchers.
Maybe a better comp would be Matt Wieters. Through his first four seasons, Wieters was a two-time All-Star and won a pair of Gold Gloves. He also hit 65 home runs, the exact same total Perez has at this point in his career. For his second trip through the arbitration process, Wieters made $7.7 million.
This is just a very rough comparison, but it’s pretty obvious that Perez should be making more money at this point in his career than the $3.55 Ramos made in 2015. If anything, he should be making Wieters money. He’s going to make $2 million.
The arguments in favor of restructuring Perez’s deal fall firmly on the side of public relations. First and foremost, it’s about keeping one of their core happy. Perez started talking last year about his contract and expressed an interest in renegotiating. He’s underpaid. By a lot. He knows he’s underpaid. I mean, he has to know, right? The last thing the Royals want or need is to have one of their team leaders disgruntled.
A potential benefit to renegotiating would be how the Royals would look to the rest of the players in the league. The Royals have developed a reputation of having a very player-friendly environment. Ned Yost
The downside to all of this is Perez’s declining production.
Those are some disturbing trends as he enters what should be the prime of his career. His raw home run totals have progressed, but his plate discipline is off the charts awful. The last two years, he’s chased roughly 45 percent of pitches he sees outside the strike zone. His walk rate has gone from an awful 4.4 percent his rookie year to an abysmal 2.4 percent last season. I’d say I have no idea why opposing pitchers throw him strikes, but there are so many happy Wild Card flashbacks, I’m not certain it matters so much.
As he’s become a less patient hitter at the plate, he’s spent more time than anyone behind the plate. Perez has caught more innings than anyone over the last two seasons – and that’s not even accounting for his October workload. Folding those innings into his totals and he practically laps the field. Next year is his age 26 season, but there are serious questions about his ability to stay behind the plate due to his use by the team. It’s understandable the Royals would think Perez is so valuable he should start the lion’s share of the games, but there needs to be some common sense deployed. A healthy, rested Perez is a more productive Perez.
I’m not sure the Royals should bend over backward in the renegotiation. After all, the Royals have all the power in the situation. Perez is still a mighty valuable member of this team, but his declining production and demanding position should make the club wary. If they do come to an agreement, I would expect it to be backloaded to a degree. Maybe they guarantee his remaining options and add a couple more with a larger than normal buyout for some of the security he surrendered when he signed a few years ago. If there’s more guaranteed money involved, I can’t imagine it would be much more than a couple million for the next couple of seasons. As it stands, payroll looks to be around a club record $130 million. Why would the Royals feel the need to add to that when it’s unnecessary?
Either way, the Royals will come to an agreement that will keep their backstop happy. And as Heyman notes, it will probably come around the time of Fanfest. A new deal for a fan favorite that should remain relatively team-friendly. Everyone wins.