The Kansas City Royals have one of the best young catchers in all of baseball and there is an argument to be made that Salvador Perez is the best. Throw in an age cut-off of 25 and younger to eliminate Matt Wieters and Buster Posey from the conversation and there’s no need to even argue the point. Just 22 years old, Perez already has 115 games of major league experience on his resume and has hit 0.311/.339/.471 over 463 plate appearances. His offensive ability alone puts him in elite company among big league catchers but his value behind the dish is beyond reproach.
Of course there’s not a catcher in baseball that can withstand the rigors of playing all 162 games, let alone produce with that kind of workload, and every team needs a capable backup. Considering the only other backstop on the Royals 40-man roster up until today was Brett Hayes, the Royals and Dayton Moore needed to so something to address the situation.
They did “something” today by claiming 29-year old backup catcher George Kottaras who was designated for assignment by the Oakland A’s last week. As for what he brings to the table, he’s about what you’d expect from a backup bringing typically low averages and occasional pop to the table on offense. Aside from 58 games with the Brewers last season when he drew 29 walks to 24 strikeouts, he has below average on-base skills. That said, for a catcher they’re not bad and he’s willing to take a walk (13.1 BB%). In 249 major league games over five seasons he’s hit 0.220/.320/.412 and 0.273/.370/.450 over the course of 584 games in the minors. Offensively he’s nothing to write home about but he does hit left-handed which will give Ned Yost a bit of flexibility with his bench if George makes the team.
He’s a negative defensive runs saved (DRS) catcher over his career and has thrown out only 16% of would-be base stealers in the majors. Hayes, by comparison, hasn’t saved any runs according to DRS, but he has thrown out 26% of runners as a big leaguer. He’s considered much better behind the plate.
This is actually where the Royals take a step back with this move, and given the other bats in Kansas City’s lineup defense behind the plate should be the priority when trying to decide who will back up Perez. At the end of the day it won’t matter all that much as long as Salvador stays healthy and holds up for 125-135 games but given my druthers Manny Pina would be the backup catcher on this team. As long as he plays solid defense and calls a good game, he can hit 0.100 as far as I’m concerned – a la Drew Butera in Minnesota.
Kottaras as a backup does have some minimal value and he’ll only cost the team $1 million if he sticks around, but to claim him the Royals had to create a spot on the 40-man roster. Tony Abreu was the player designated for assignment as a reult, and that decision is questionable at best.
What the team needs more than an upgrade to their backup catcher is a quality utility infielder. To that end Abreu showed enough positive things at both the major and minor league level in 2012 to deserve at least a look in spring training. He also probably would provide Kansas City more value as insurance in Omaha than Kottaras would on the major league roster.
This is a move that didn’t need to be made but in the grand scheme probably doesn’t alter the Royals 2013 fortunes much, if at all. That said, it will be surprising if another organization doesn’t claim Abreu.