A second opinion on the right elbow of Salvador Perez has confirmed the Royals’ worst fears: Perez will undergo Tommy John surgery tomorrow, the team told reporters (Twitter link via Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star). The surgery should put Perez on the shelf for the entirety of the 2019 season.
The Royals first announced that Perez had damage to the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last Friday. The initial recommendation for Perez was Tommy John surgery, though the team first sought a second opinion from renowned surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache before scheduling the procedure.
Perez, 28, is earning $10MM in 2019 as part of a $52.5MM contract extension to which he agreed prior to the 2016 season. He’s also owed $13MM in both the 2020 and 2021 seasons as part of that long-term arrangement.
A six-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove winner, two-time Silver Slugger winner and the MVP of the 2015 World Series, Perez has emerged as the face of the Royals’ franchise in recent seasons. Though Kansas City has embarked on a substantial rebuilding effort following its run of prominence (including consecutive World Series appearances in 2014-15), there’s never been any serious indication that the club would give thought to moving Perez.
With Perez on the shelf, the top catchers on the Royals’ depth chart at present are Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria — the former of whom is a .218/.274/.333 hitter in 96 MLB plate appearances and the latter of whom has all of 29 MLB plate appearances. Viloria, in fact, jumped from Class-A Advanced to the Majors last season as a September call-up but still seems years away from legitimate MLB readiness.
Suffice it to say, it’d register as a surprise if the Royals didn’t look to address their catching situation in some fashion following the unwelcome news. Martin Maldonado is the most obvious and straightforward choice: a premier defensive backstop with nearly 2000 Major League plate appearances under his belt who (surprisingly) still remains unsigned. Maldonado was most recently connected to the Mariners, though at the time of that report, Seattle was still wary of giving him a guaranteed 40-man roster spot. Light-hitting as Maldonado may be (.220/.289/.350 in his career), it’s still jarring that a player with his defensive prowess has struggled to find a 40-man spot this winter. The Royals, it now seems, can not only provide that but could also provide a fair bit of playing time as well.
Beyond Maldonado, there’s little in terms of proven assets on the open market, though the Royals could certainly wait until later in Spring Training to see if a veteran on a minor league pact with another club opts out of his deal. Veterans such as Nick Hundley (Athletics), Rene Rivera (Giants), Stephen Vogt (Giants), Matt Wieters (Cardinals), Devin Mesoraco (Mets) and old friend Drew Butera (Phillies) are all in Major League camps as non-roster invitees — but not all will earn a roster spot with his current organization. Alternatively, the Royals could also look to the trade market or waiver wire late in camp as a means of acquiring some additional depth. Notably, the Red Sox have reportedly been exploring deals involving their trio of backstops (Christian Vazquez, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart).