Don't Kill The Mellinger

What can go right and wrong for the 2014 Royals, part one: Sal Perez

Updated: 2014-02-01T04:38:40Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

The other day, I sort-of predicted the Royals for 89 wins and first place in a down American League Central. There was no science behind this prediction, just a gut reaction on a team that will ( probably) miss Ervin Santana and will (definitely) need big things from at least one of three talented starting pitchers and almost certainly will improve offensively^.

^ Though we’ve been fooled before, obviously.

Anyway, when it comes to Royals predictions, I usually make a wild guess in January and then adjust throughout spring training but we’ll do it a little differently this year. Part of that is I’m not sure I’ll actually be able to make it to spring training this year. And part of it is that I might as well " show my work" here on the blog.

So here’s a little feature we’ll run from time to time between now and the first pitch of the Royals’ season — a fastball from Max Scherzer, which Nori Aoki will take for strike one on March 31 in Detroit — about one thing that could go very right or very wrong for what on paper is the best Royals team in 20 years^.

^ Yes, we’re all aware this is a low standard.

To be honest, the list of negatives will probably be longer than the list of positives. But let’s start with a positive:

Salvador Perez will become a star.

There is no player in recent Royals history to have sparked as many man (and woman) crushes as Perez, and that goes for people in and out of the Royals organization. He made his first All-Star game, won his first Gold Glove, generally played like a Yadier Molina clone ahead of the curve and this is the best part for the Royals (though not necessarily for Sal):

He is signed to perhaps baseball’s most club-friendly contract.

Perez will make $1.5 million this year, $1.75 million next year, and $2 million in 2016 before three years of team options totaling — totaling — $14.75 million. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who is five years older than Perez, not nearly as good defensively, and has hit .244 over the last three seasons, just signed with the Rangers for three years and $21 million.

Royals execs got mad at me when I said they should’ve smoked a cigarette after signing that extension, but it continues to be a flabbergastingly^ one-sided contract that is the organization’s single greatest asset going forward.

^ Made-up word.

Anyway, it’s all there for Sal. He played a little less than a full season last year between a concussion and what turned into an extended bereavement leave, but still played 138 days since Ned Yost was essentially allergic to giving his most valuable player any time off.

Last year, Perez hit .292/.323/.433 and was a force behind the plate at 23 years old.

I brought up Molina, and that’s the most common comp for Perez, and not to get ahead of ourselves but at 23 years old Molina hit .216/.274/.321.

Every player is different. There are no guarantees that Perez will blossom into a 1B-level slugger like Molina. Perez is already more advanced offensively than some scouts thought he’d be.

But if he does — let’s just say he matches his 2012 numbers over a full season and hits .301/.328/.471 — the Royals have a much-needed boost to their offense and a legitimate star in the league under long-term club control. In this scenario, Perez lengthens the lineup and not only provides a steady confidence but could take over the position-player leadership role to match James Shields with the pitchers. Perez is still very young for something like that, but it’s a young team and he checks all the other boxes — position, production, positivity, smarts, charisma, hard work.

The floor on Perez is astoundingly high. The ceiling on him could be what puts The Process into the playoffs.

 

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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