Catcher Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals bats against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. Perez played in his first Major League Baseball game. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
The Royals took an unconventional approach to locking up one of their players, signing Salvador Perez to a five-year deal six years before he was going to be a free agent.
Salvador Perez is a reliever's name. He should have a slider that breaks a foot, a fastball that touches 97, and an elbow that shuts him down every other year. So you're excused if when you saw the news on the Internet -- "Salvador Perez signs five-year extension" -- you were a little perplexed. That's a big commitment for a middle reliever.
But Perez is a catcher for the Royals. And for 148 at-bats last year, the 21-year-old was a great catcher. In the 1228 minor-league at-bats before that? Well, it's tough to say. He did okay, considering he was usually young for his level.
He never made Baseball America's top-100 prospects. Before the 2011 season, John Sickels ranked him as the Royals' 18th-best prospect in a very deep system. His defense is said to be impressive, but by all rights, this should still be a player the Royals are still figuring out.
Instead, the Royals locked him up for five years, buying out two of his arbitration seasons. There are three team options after that for a total of $14 million. It's essentially a 5/$7 million contract that can turn into an 8/$21 million contract (with incentives) if Perez develops well.
This is baseball's most fascinating contract.
My obsession will hopefully wane soon, but after writing about it at McCovey Chronicles, I still felt compelled to write more. I keep drawing "♥♥♥Salvador Perez's Contract♥♥♥" on my Pee-Chee folders. This thing consumes me.
I've seen it referred to as an Evan Longoria/Matt Moore-type of contract. It isn't. Those are players who were expected to be stars but signed for regular-player money. This is a player expected to be a regular who signed for bargain prices in exchange for financial security. I don't remember a contract like it.
Over the next five years, the Royals will pay at least $2.5 million for a backup catcher. That's if they pull someone up from their own system, dredge up a minor-league free agent, or promote their bullpen catcher. So if you assume that Perez can, at the very least, be a backup catcher, the Royals are gambling $4.5 million over those five years that he can be something more. That's just above the going rate for a generic starting catcher. Ramon Hernandez signed this offseason for two years, $6.4 million, and he's like 80.
Perez gets $7 million, guaranteed. After taxes and agents, he'll probably pocket $4 million of that. That would go a long, long way if he were to contract leprosy or be unable to perform even as a competent backup in the majors. And his worst-case financial scenario -- that he breaks out, becomes a star, and has to wait eight years to test the market -- will be punished with additional millions. He took a risk, but the safety net was many millions.
The Royals locked up a player who could be something special. Or they locked up a serviceable catcher for just above serviceable-catcher rates. The risk is almost negligible.
Now we get to see if this is a trend or an anomaly. Not every player is going to be as risk averse as Perez -- there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and I'd wager that a lot of young players don't see anything but dollar signs when they look six years into their future. But there have to be some rookies willing to take the millions up front, and teams would be wise to see just how much it would take to lock in.
The Royals signed a player to a five-year deal. They're crossing their fingers and hoping he's at least average. That's not something you usually read in connection with five-year deals, but there's a chance that the Royals started something new.