The Case For (and Against) Trading Salvy
The captain of the Royals was the subject of rumors at the trade deadline and will be part of rumors again this winter.
The idea that the Royals could possibly ever trade Salvador Perez was one that, just a year ago, seemed absurd. But rumors started when the Royals passed on hiring Pedro Grifol and Grifol subsequently went to the White Sox. I don’t have any information on this, so I’m not providing an expose about a fractured relationship. However, there were whispers about Perez not being as happy with the Royals as he once was (which doesn’t mean he wasn’t happy, please keep in mind). In a ceremony in the clubhouse on Opening Day, he was named the captain of the team and all seemed generally fine.
If you’re not already a paid subscriber, now’s the time! Get a paid yearly Inside the Crown subscription for just $27 through the postseason. That’s only $2.25/month!
But sometime between then and the trade deadline, it was clear that Perez gave his blessing for the Royals to move him if the deal was right. By the time the deadline passed, I was told by one person who I’d say is in the know that if the deadline was five hours later, Perez would have been gone. It’s easy to say that because it didn’t happen and he (and I now) can never be proven right or wrong on it. But that information has led me to believe that the odds of Perez getting moved this winter are way higher than I’d ever imagined they could be.
There aren’t a lot of suitors, but there are enough. The Marlins were the team most rumored to be in on him at the deadline, but the White Sox kept coming up as well. That would make some sense with Grifol their manager and now Chris Getz their general manager (though I don’t know about Getz and Perez’s relationship). But it could make even more sense if Dayton Moore joins that front office, as has been rumored.
Other teams who could make sense are the Yankees, Reds, Giants, Padres and Rangers. Some make more sense than others, but Perez’s power and apparent ability to handle first base makes him a bit more of a fit for a team that already has a catcher but might want some veteran leadership along with the ability to get behind the plate.
So there are teams who could come calling. I don’t think any team is going to come calling with the salary owed to him - $44 million over the next two years plus his option buyout. But that’s fixable and the Royals under John Sherman have shown a willingness to both include money in trades and eat money. They hadn’t shown that before, so I would say it’s not only possible but probable that they’d be willing. I say all of this to set up the idea that trading Perez is something that can actually happen. Because if you don’t believe it can happen, the premise to write about why they should or shouldn’t do it makes no sense.
The Case for Trading Salvy
I’m going to say right now that if the return is enough, no player is off limits. For some, that’s a price that teams simply won’t match. For others, it can be a reasonable ask. For Perez, I don’t think the right deal for the Royals requires an unreasonable offer, but I do think it requires the Royals to pay down some (maybe half or more) of his salary. Because the reality is, the Royals can’t trade the most popular player on their team for the return they would get in a pure salary dump.
I do believe that three things happened during the course of the 2023 season that made this trade possible for them. While Perez is the most recognizable and yes, most popular, player on the team, he’s losing his grip as the face of the franchise. He still is, but Bobby Witt Jr. is close enough at this point, that if Perez wasn’t on this roster, they would still have a face. Now, is that actually important? I don’t know. I tend to think there is some value in that, though it can’t be represented statistically. But the fact that they have Witt helps.
Two young (or inexperienced) players also stepped up this season. Nelson Velazquez emerged as a legitimate power threat. He is obviously not nearly as established, but the Royals lacked right-handed power other than Witt and Velazquez provides that now. And Freddy Fermin showed that what he did in Omaha last year and this year and what he did in winter ball was for real. Defensively, he showed out as well. He isn’t Perez, but he gives the Royals a legitimate catcher they feel like they can count on.
Actually, you can add in a fourth variable with Vinnie Pasquantino returning and I think you can argue they have three middle-of-the-order bats without Perez even included. So from a lineup perspective, they are now able to move on from the power that is provided. And defensively, where Perez has always struggled with pitch framing, they have a replacement there as well. I’m not going to say the team can’t use a 25-30 home run bat behind the plate, but they’re positioned to succeed without him.
Knowing that the team has the pieces to move on from him, the question now becomes the return. This is where there are unknowns, of course, but with two guaranteed years left, the money left on his deal is something that the Royals would likely be willing to pay enough of to be able to get the return they need. The problem with someone like Perez is values can be tough to determine, even with the Royals covering salary. Would the Marlins part with Braxton Garrett for Perez because they just want Perez and know that they’ve got pitching to cover? Maybe! If they would, I feel like getting a 26-year old starter with four years of control and a 6.4 percent career walk rate would be pretty attractive.
How about Owen White from Texas? Or even Jack Leiter? Maybe the White Sox, with a bunch of Royals guys in their room, are willing to give up the recently acquired Jake Eder or Nick Nastrini. Could the Giants part with Mason Black or Keaton Winn? Maybe Adam Mazur comes from the Padres or Will Warren from the Yankees. I’m just throwing names against a wall because I truly cannot gauge what teams would give up for Perez at two years and $20ish million. I even talked to a scout from another team and his response was that he could see a team like the Padres looking to rebound from 2023 and want to get a leader like Perez in there. He could also see a team like the Rays jumping in but offering next to nothing because they don’t value the intangibles as much as other teams might. It’s just a weird market.
Maybe the market is slightly less weird if they look at taking on a bigger money deal in return, either in lieu of paying some of Perez’s contract or in addition to it. I think it would probably have to be in addition to paying it, but there are overpaid players out there who they could acquire who could help. Could the Royals take on the final $29 million owed to Avisail Garcia and get back Max Meyer as part of the return because of it? It’s possible. This would be wild, but what about Giancarlo Stanton? I don’t think it would ever happen, but that’s a pretty bad contract right now and it’s theoretically just money to maybe get a better prospect. I’m just throwing names against a wall, but you get the idea.
But if that deal is there, and it doesn’t have to be a blockbuster, I think there’s a reasonable argument that trading Perez makes a lot of sense. We can sit here and hope the Royals will be competitive in 2024 and I suppose they might. You can argue they’d have won 10-15 more games with an actually good bullpen, so if they build that and add two starters and a couple of bats take a step forward, maybe they add another 12-14 wins on top of that and the AL Central is a very winnable division and all of that, but that also assumes that no other team in the division takes a step forward and yeah, the fact that it’s taken this long just to get them to 83-85 wins means actual contention is pretty darn unlikely.
Even if they can get to the doorstep of contention in 2024, that leaves them with one guaranteed year of a 35-year-old Perez and then one option year of a 36-year-old Perez. What are the odds that he’s contributing in a big way to those teams? This is something that other teams know too, but players generally don’t get better as they age, especially catchers, and Perez’s wRC+ has already gone from 161 to 128 to 105 to 86 over the last four seasons. He arguably has more value to the Royals as the return they get from a team that sees him as the final piece on a team looking to contend in 2024. So that’s why you move him.
The Case Against Trading Salvy
Two arguments exist here. The first is statistical. The Royals hit 163 home runs as a team in 2023, which was more than just three teams. Of those 163, Perez accounted for 14.1 percent of them in just 9.7 percent of the team’s plate appearances. How do teams score? They hit the ball over the wall. Yes, there’s an emphasis on speed that’s been added and yes, the Royals have an ability to play an exciting brand of baseball, but one thing will always be true: every home run scores at least one run, but nothing else guarantees a run.
I think a balanced offense is important, but teams need to have multiple home run threats in their lineup to actually be able to score runs consistently. Only five teams scored more runs than the Royals in September. They were 15th in homers. Only one team scored fewer runs than the Royals in April. They were 27th in homers. The home run isn’t the only way to score, but of the top-10 scoring offenses in baseball, only one wasn’t in the top half of the league in home runs. So to trade away power on a team missing power is a risky move.
And it’s not just the number of home runs. Look at the isolated slugging percentage. For those who don’t know or who have forgotten, ISO is just slugging percentage minus average and it’s important because it takes singles out of the equation. For example, Luis Arraez put up a .469 SLG. That would have ranked third on the Royals behind Velazquez and Witt, but he isn’t a power hitter. His ISO was .115 because he put up a monster batting average. That ISO would have sat between Nick Pratto and Nick Loftin at 15th on the team. It’s not that you wouldn’t accept Arraez with open arms, but he gets to his SLG very different than a guy like Perez.
Perez’s ISO was .167, which is a decline from his career for sure, but still higher than the team average and I think some of it was being unable to get to second on some balls that he should be able to get to second on once he has a winter to heal up. Of course, there is injury risk with him every single year and he’s seemingly getting bigger, but this is the case against trading him, so I’ll keep that quiet in this section. The point is that Perez hits the ball far and the Royals don’t exactly have a huge group of players who do that to replace him.
I mentioned Velazquez, Fermin and Pasquantino above, but are any of them sure bets? I think you probably feel the best about Pasquantino because he’s already shown he can be an above average big league hitter for an extended stretch, but also he had a pretty major surgery. Fermin looked good in fewer than 300 plate appearances at 28 years old. Velazquez hit a ton of homers, but he only has 285 big league plate appearances and put up a sub-.300 OBP with the Royals. I guess that OBP is in line with Perez’s, but I don’t think any of them are a lock for the kind of production that you can argue Salvy is, if healthy.
And the second argument is on the side that can’t be quantified. What does he mean to the young players on the team? The Royals had the youngest bats in baseball by a fair amount and they were even younger when the season ended than when it began. There is value in that veteran leadership. There is value in the guy who has been there and done that for this team. There is value in young players not feeling like they need to carry the load for a team.
I think there’s also something on the same front that might put some doubt in the rest of the team as far as their hopes to compete. Look at someone like Witt. He has played two years in the big leagues and been a part of 203 losses. Does trading a guy like Perez make him question the direction of the organization? I think that’s a little easier to fix because if you sit down with him and explain the decisions, you can curb that, but you never know what kind of taste that would leave in the mouth of someone like him.
You probably already know my opinion. If the deal is there, trade him. But I don’t think we can pretend like it’s the easiest choice in the world for a team looking to take a step (or three) forward in 2024. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s about 55/45 that he goes and that jumps to 60/40 if Moore ends up with the White Sox. But I really can see both sides.