NCAA Tournament weekend often produces a lot of stories, especially when the KC Metro area has multiple colleges involved (this year it is Kansas and Mizzou, though Mizzou bowed out in the first round against Oklahoma). However, the Royals made plenty of headlines themselves, especially on Sunday, as news broke on two huge stories in regard to the roster. I decided to split the stories up, since each issue deserves its own analysis and post.
In this post, I am going to talk about the news that just broke below on an official end:
Alec Lewis of the Athletic also tweeted further details of Salvy’s contract details, breaking down the total AAV (average annual value) as well as the break down for each year of the contract:
Salvy was entering the last year of his contract this season, so it is not a surprise that the Royals were negotiating an extension with their long-time, and multiple-All Star catcher. However, I expected the Royals to maybe make a move after the 2021 season. The fact that they went in so heavily on Salvy before he was officially done with his first contract shows how much they value Perez, who has not only been their full-time catcher since 2013 (he played sparingly in 2011 and 2012 at the MLB level), but has also arguably been the face and heart of the Royals franchise since then. With Alex Gordon officially retired, it makes sense that owner John Sherman and general manager Dayton Moore would invest so heavily in Salvy in order to ensure that the Royals have the clubhouse leadership they need not only for 2021, but beyond as well.
Thus, with Salvy officially a Royal for the long-term, let’s take a look at the deal itself, and examine three takeaways Royals fans may have after the announcement of what is officially the largest contract for a player in Royals history.
Will Salvy live up to his contract?
The Royals front office gave Salvy a four-year, $82 million deal, a club record which surpasses the four-year $72-million deal given to Alex Gordon in 2016. Of course, whenever a deal like this occurs in any organization, the first thought among the fanbase is this: will that player live up to their contract?
The standard is certainly high for Salvy after a deal like this, especially for a small-market club like the Royals, where extensions like this are not common. Furthermore, the Gordon deal doesn’t necessarily leave a great taste in Royals fans’ mouths, as Gordo immediately dropped off in production after signing his extension. After accumulating 24.1 fWAR from 2011-2015, according to Fangraphs, Gordon only produced a 3.3 fWAR from 2016-2019. Hence, there probably may be concerns among Royals fans that Salvy will experience a similar drop off, for he will be around 32-years-old when his new extension begins in 2022.
What’s interesting about Salvy is that his value depends on the metrics used. Baseball Reference, for example, rates Salvy highly, as he has a career bWAR of 24.2, according to Baseball-Reference, which places him 15th all-time in Royals bWAR, according to BR’s Royals Franchise Index. However, Fangraphs is a lot more conservative, as he only has a career 11.9 fWAR, according to Fangraphs. Thus, by one set of metrics, Salvy is a for sure Royals Hall of Famer who should be able to carry the Royals behind the plate over the duration of his extension. On the other hand, by another set of metrics, Salvy is a good, not great catcher who is above average, but may not be one who can carry the franchise over the next five years.
So what should Royals fans expect out of Salvy over the next five years?
Well, honestly, as corny as it sounds, Salvy probably falls somewhere in the middle. From 2014-2018, Salvy only posted a wRC+ over 100 once (2017; and it was 102), and he only posted a fWAR in the 2.0 or over range once as well (2014). However, after missing the entire season in 2019 due to Tommy John, Salvy had a resurgence at the plate and behind the plate, as he posted not only a 162 wRC+, but also a 1.9 fWAR in only 37 games. Thus, Royals fans have to wonder what Salvy could have done over the course of a full 162-game campaign in 2020.
Now, it’s unlikely that Salvy will produce those metrics again. His skill data from 2020 demonstrated that over a full season, he would have most likely seen some regression. His contact rate was the lowest of his career (75.8 percent), according to Fangraphs, and his BB/K ratio was also the lowest of his career at 0.08, amplified by a career-low walk rate of 1.9 percent. That being said, while his contact rates will be key to watch in 2021, his power seems to be legitimate, as he has posted ISO rates over .200 over the past three years, and he has hit 20 or more home runs from 2015-2018, and was on pace to surpass that as well in 2020 (he hit 11 home runs).
In addition, Salvy has always rated as a strong defensive catcher, with most of his value tied to his arm strength. He currently has five Gold Gloves on his resume, and he has always been well above-average in regard to “caught stealing rate” (including 48 percent marks in 2018 and 2016, which ranked in the top percentiles of the league). However, he has struggled with framing, but the Royals have always been able to complement Salvy with a backup catcher who has been a stronger framer, even if they offer less offensive and arm upside (more on this later).
Therefore, the Royal have specific needs of Salvy over the next five years: simply be a power-hitting catcher with a great arm who can provide valuable leadership behind the plate and in the clubhouse. Now, is that worth $20 million a year? Maybe…maybe not. But Salvy, with his power skill, arm strength, and leadership, is in the Top 5-10 range for catchers, and catchers in that range are touching the AAV mark that he commanded, including J.T. Realmuto, who signed a similar AAV, but longer deal with the Phillies this off-season.
Therefore, Salvy’s deal may tough to justify for some Royals fans who like the Royals to be more cost efficient. However, it’s highly likely that Salvy would’ve got something similar on the open market next off-season, which may have forced the Moore and the Royals to pay more than what they currently did with this latest extension.
What does this mean for other catchers in the Royals system?
It’s possible that Salvy will play some DH and first base over the duration of his contract, especially as he reaches the end of his deal. However, from all initial reports, Moore and the Royals signed Salvy to be the Royals’ catcher over the duration of his contract. If he is not behind the plate, Salvy, despite his power, is a pretty ordinary, maybe even slightly below-ordinary hitter at the designate hitter or first base position.
However, if the Salvy is the Royals’ catcher for at least the next five seasons, what does that mean for the the other catchers in the Royals system?
At this point, it will be pretty much a battle for Salvy’s backup position over the next five years. Cam Gallagher seems to be the best fit in the short-term, as he is coming off a decent season at the plate (.790 OPS in 60 plate appearances), and he is known for being a strong framer, something that Salvy has traditionally struggled with over the course of his career. However, in the long-term, recent 40-man addition Sebastian Rivero could be a good complement to Salvy after Gallagher eventually departs the organization. Rivero doesn’t have the most lauded bat, but he could provide the defense, framing, and leadership needed behind the plate when it is time to spell Salvy over a 162-game season.
Two catchers who could be on the hot seat and may not be in the Royals system much longer are Meibrys Viloria and MJ Melendez, two still young catching prospects who have yet to put it together at the Major and/or Minor League level. Viloria was gifted another Minor League option this off-season due to the shortened season in 2020, but he was optioned early this Spring and did not see much time in Cactus League play. As for Melendez, the Royals added Rivero to the 40-man roster over Melendez, who has consistently been rated as a higher prospect in the Royals system by most prospect experts. While Melendez does have one more year to go until he’s Rule 5 Draft eligible, it has to be a deflating sign for the former second-round draft pick, especially since both catchers are roughly the same age. The fact that the Royals didn’t talk about Melendez much this Spring or past Summer is not necessarily a good sign, and it would not be surprising to see Melendez be in trade talks during the year, especially if the Royals are competing and looking for a veteran talent.
Melendez, in the wake of the Salvy extension, may be an expendable talent for the Royals at this point, unfortunately.
Who else could be eligible for an extension? (And who may be the odd person out after Salvy’s signing)
Before Salvy’s extension was announced, there was news circulating that shortstop Adalberto Mondesi was negotiating an extension with the Royals, as evidenced below:
It’s possible that the Salvy extension may have tabled the Mondesi extension for the time being, but it would not be surprising to see Mondesi as the next extension target for the Royals, especially after 2021. Mondesi has looked solid this Spring, as he is hitting .286 with a .699 OPS in nine Cactus League games. Furthermore, the fact that Mondesi has had a fully-healthy Cactus League campaign is a promising sign, especially after missing all of Spring Training and some of Summer Camp due to recovery from surgery in the off-season.
Thus, if Mondesi has a strong 2021, it would not be surprising to see Moore pull the trigger on a Mondesi extension, especially considering his plus multiple-tool profile that has enticed the organization and Royals fans for years. Even if shortstop Bobby Witt, Jr., does eventually make his way to Kansas City in 2021 (even if it will not be on Opening Day, apparently), Mondesi could co-exist with him, and help produce a dangerous pair up the middle or on the left side of the infield (should they move Hunter Dozier back to the outfield).
After Mondesi, it becomes a bit hazier in regard to who the Royals will extend. Brad Keller avoided arbitration this off-season, but he will still have two arbitration-eligible season left after 2021. Yes, he will be the Royals’ Opening Day starter for the second-time in three years (he wasn’t last year due to missing the beginning of the year due to COVID). However, the Royals have a plethora of pitching depth in their system, and he’s struggled to generate strikeouts over his career, which may worry some Royals fans that he may hit a wall in 2021 and beyond. Lastly, pitchers can be volatile commodities, and thus, it may be in the Royals’ best interest to be prudent with how they approach Keller’s contractual status until he hits free agency after 2023.
The biggest extension question mark for this club, however, is Jorge Soler, who will finally be a free agent after signing two one-year deals to avoid arbitration the past two off-seasons. Soler is one of the most natural power hitters the Royals have ever had in their 53-year history, but he really cannot play defense, and he has struggled with making consistent contact and striking out over his tenure with the Royals. The lack of a universal DH killed any kind of market for him this off-season, but there will be negotiations for a new CBA after 2021, and it seems likely that the universal DH will likely be incorporated by 2022 (should there be no strike, fingers crossed). Thus, will the Royals try to sign Soler to a modest extension before the start of the season in order to get him at a decent price? Or will the Royals simply let him part, probably unable to pay his price tag on the open market, especially if he has another season that is close to his 2019 in terms of production.
The Salvy deal doesn’t necessarily sink the possibility of “Soler Power” continuing in 2022 and possibly beyond. Unfortunately, the Royals have tended to only sign those kind of big “Salvy deals” once every two years or so in the Moore era (Danny Duffy was another on in 2017). It seems likely that Soler, if he has another 35-45 home run season, will probably command a $12-15 million AAV deal over three to four years, at the very least, especially if the National League are suitors thanks to a universal DH.
Can the Royals match that? Maybe, especially if they are competing, as Sherman seems more willing to spend to compete than previous owner David Glass. It will be hard to let Soler walk if the Royals are indeed a playoff club or on the cusp by the end of 2021.
That being said, it just feels like the Salvy deal may mean that the sun may be setting on “Soler Power” most likely after 2021, as Soler, despite his popularity with Royals fans, may be a player who will be too much of a luxury for the Royals to afford by 2022.
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