After missing all of 2019, Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez will see extended stretches of time at first base in 2020, per The Athletic’s Alec Lewis (via Twitter). Perez underwent Tommy John surgery, and the Royals are willing to be cautious with their catcher as they ease him back in behind the plate. New manager Mike Matheny can certainly commiserate, having spent so many years behind the dish himself.
By Opening Day, Perez may be the last bastion of their title team. Danny Duffy remains, and there’s still a chance that Alex Gordon returns, but if Gordon retires or signs elsewhere, Perez would be the last remaining every day piece of their back-to-back pennant winning teams. Especially now that manager Ned Yost has passed the torch to Matheny, Perez represents an important daily reminder as the bridge to a successful era of Royals baseball.
Simply from a scorebook standpoint, a catcher with a strong defensive reputation who annually hits 20 home runs like Perez is extremely valuable, though poor baserunning and an extremely low walk rate have somewhat mitigated the plus sides of Perez’s game. Regardless, priority one will be avoiding another lost season like 2019. Besides, neither first base nor catcher is a position of real strength for the Royals sans Perez. As with Perez’s counterpart in the 2014 World Series Buster Posey, time at first base should ease the physical toll on Perez’s knees, arm, and back as he prepares to enter his thirties in early May. It may be that this move will be what allows Perez to maintain his influence behind the dish for longer, if not with the workload of his younger years.
As Perez returns to service, there’s some chatter about another member of the title team returning. MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan asked Dayton Moore about the possibility of a Greg Holland signing, to which Moore expressed some optimism. Granted, it would have been a bizarre jab for Moore to outright reject Flanagan’s postulating, but Holland does fit the mold of a free agent the Royals could afford and who might have some interest in playing in Kansas City.
Holland, 34, came out the chute hot last season as the Diamondbacks closer, but he was released after 40 appearances and a 4.54 ERA/4.76 FIP. Thus continued the late-career trend of hot-and-cold for Holland, who simply couldn’t find the strike zone with consistency. He can still miss bats (10.3 K/9), but 6.1 BB/9 and 6 wild pitches led to 5 blown saves and his eventual removal from the closer’s role in Arizona despite 17 successful conversions.
Once released, he signed on with the Nationals, for whom he’d put together a masterful 24 games with a 0.84 ERA at the end of 2018. He didn’t give up a single earned run in 9 innings for the Nats’ Double-A affiliate, but he did not find his way back to the big leagues.
As for the rest of the Royals roster, Moore doesn’t foresee much movement on the big league front. Whit Merrifield, Jorge Soler, and Adalberto Mondesi are parts of their core and the Royals have no intention of breaking them up, per Lynn Worthy of the Kansas City Star. There is excitement internally about the return of Perez and even Duffy gets a shoutout from Moore as having the potential to get better in the latter years of his contract. Though that’s not typically the arc for pitchers on the backside of thirty, it would not be wholly unprecedented. Duffy’s last two seasons have been largely forgettable as he’s put together 285 2/3 innings of 4.63 ERA baseball (4.74 FIP) while making roughly 25 starts per season.
Beyond those core performers, the Royals believe in the growth potential of infielder Nicky Lopez as well as first baseman Ryan O’Hearn. Both players struggled mightily in 2019. Lopez, 24, hit an underwhelming .240/.276/.325 in 402 player appearances, and O’Hearn, 25, wasn’t much better at .195/.281/.369. For players with at least 350 plate appearances, O’Hearn’s 69 wRC+ ranked 5th from the bottom in the American League, while Lopez came in dead last at 56 wRC+, two points behind Chris Davis’ mark of 58 wRC+.