First, a question: What would you do after the dream?
What would you do after the mission is accomplished and the championship is won, after you have cradled the World Series Most Valuable Player trophy in your palms at age 25 and possess more riches than you ever imagined?
Some of us — maybe many of us — would rest. Soak it all in. Cash the paychecks. Punch the clock and embrace the easy.
Others, of course, might feel suffocated by the stardom, the walls closing in, all the demands and the time and pressure. Some of us might just wilt.
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Then there is Salvador Perez, the Royals’ All-Star catcher. He bought a house in south Florida.
He did this because he wanted to, of course, because he had thought about moving to the area for a while. It was perfect, he thought. It would cut down on the commute back home to Venezuela. It was closer to friends. So, on a day off last summer before a series in Miami, Perez went hunting for a place. His teammate and hermano, Eric Hosmer, had suggested a few neighborhoods. Perez settled on Weston, an affluent suburb 35 miles northwest of Miami, a place nicknamed “Westonzuela” because of its thriving Venezuelan community. Again, perfect.
“He lives literally like 10 minutes down the road from me,” Hosmer said.
Because Perez is a millionaire with relentless energy and a growing family and a zest for life, he cannot stay planted in one place for long. He spent most of November and December in Florida, returned home to Venezuela for a stretch and spent part of his offseason in Kansas City. But in ways both tangible and symbolic, the new digs in Weston represented the start of a new chapter, the next phase of his career.
Since debuting with the Royals in 2011, Perez had grown into one of the best catchers in the game, a four-time All-Star and Gold Glove winner, the ebullient heart of a championship core. But if the last six seasons were about establishing his place in the game, the last five months were dedicated to cementing it. The beta version of Salvador Johan Perez was great, says Pedro Grifol, his catching coach and clubhouse confidante. The Royals believe the next evolution can be even better.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” general manager Dayton Moore said.
“He’s not settling,” manager Ned Yost said.
“To be a Hall of Famer, you have to have some longevity,” Grifol said. “You can’t just do it for six or seven years. He’s just got to continue to evolve into one of the best ever.”
Sure, the Hall of Fame talk can feel audacious, perhaps even premature. Yet inside the Royals clubhouse, there remains an unyielding confidence in Perez’s defensive dominance and consistency.
At the age of 26, he has already racked up four Gold Gloves, thrown out 35 percent of base runners (including an astonishing 48 percent in 2016) and led all American League catchers with 50 Defensive Runs Saved over the last six seasons. On offense, he is a work in progress, a power threat who must refine his plate discipline and pitch recognition.
But as a total package, Perez remains a special talent, a player trending toward rarified air. Maybe it’s 10 Gold Gloves. Maybe it’s increased offensive production after his on-base percentage sank to an alarming .286 over the last three years. Maybe it’s another iconic postseason moment. But none of that can happen unless Perez remains behind the plate for another 10 years. So he spent the offseason working toward that end.
He spent November and December sweating with Hosmer at a local gym in south Florida. Perez altered his diet, shedding 25 pounds from his 6-foot-3 frame.
Standing in a corner of the Royals clubhouse, Perez remains an imposing figure. But the secret came in his adherence to minor, yet strict, changes. Perez cut out sugary juices, soda and other empty liquid calories. He focused on portion control, eliminating an extra arepa — his favorite Venezuelan dish — or an extra meal of fast food.
“He’s always had the work ethic,” Hosmer said. “You mix in Salvy’s work ethic with doing the right things, and eating the right things, and it just makes him look and feel that much better.”
The Royals are hopeful that a more intense focus on nutrition and rest will pay dividends in the future. They also have incentive to protect a long-term investment. Last March, the club gave Perez a five-year, $52.5 million contract extension that will take effect this season. The deal will keep him in Kansas City through the 2021 season. The value of the contract remains linked to Perez’s ability to stay behind the plate.
“Big guys, man — it can get away from you quick if you don’t continue to work,” Yost said. “He’s working for longevity.”
It’s also possible, of course, that the emphasis on calories and weight could have an impact in 2017, too. For years, Perez’s seasons have followed familiar trend lines, peaking during the first half and fading following the All-Star break.
In his career, Perez has batted .282 with a .768 OPS (on-base- plus-slugging percentage) in the first half of seasons. After the All-Star break, the production has dropped to .263 with a .703 OPS. The phenomenon was even more pronounced in 2016. He hit .283 with a .500 slugging percentage and 14 homers in his first first 78 games before the break. He batted just .201 with eight homers the rest of the way.
Some of the decline, of course, can be traced back to Perez’s heavy workload behind the plate. In the last four seasons, including two postseason runs, no catcher in baseball has started more games or started more innings. The Royals are cognizant of the trend lines, Yost said, and Perez could see more days at designated hitter as a means to keep him fresh. But the Royals are also hopeful that a lighter Perez might better maintain his production into the late summer months.
“He’s had great years at a different weight,” Grifol said. “Now he’s going into a season lighter. Let’s see what it does. I think personally it’s going to make him even better.”
In the opening weeks of camp, teammates took notice of Perez’s altered physique. Reserve catcher Drew Butera said he looked “more toned.” Hosmer said he looked great. Perez said he weighed less than he had in close to five years. In his first five at-bats of the spring, he clubbed two homers.
“Twenty-five pounds,” Perez said. “It’s a lot; I never would have believed it.”
In other moments, Royals officials have sought to frame the weight issue in the right context. Much like batting average or any limited statistic, a weight can only tell you so much, said Royals strength and conditioning coach Ryan Stoneberg. It does not measure body composition or body fat, and Perez, a devoted presence in the weight room, always rated out well, even as his weight fluctuated.
“The guy has always been an incredible worker,” Stoneberg said. “The intensity and the consistency of his workouts are exceptional for his position.”
Raised in a blue-collar enclave in Venezuela, Perez has rarely lacked for motivation, Grifol said. Still, Stoneberg and Grifol have found ways to challenge him. On some days, Grifol will show Perez an old photo of himself and the Gold Glove.
“You have to be better than this guy,” Grifol will say.
In another conversation last year, Stoneberg looked at Perez and asked what he wanted.
Do you want to be great for five or six years, or do you want to be in the Hall of Fame?
Stoneberg recommended a few changes in diet. Hosmer introduced Perez to his trainer back in south Florida. The Royals set Perez up with Sunfare, a local company in Phoenix that will prepare and deliver healthy meals. Day by day, Perez noticed changes.
“His weight is at 250, which is incredibly down for him what it’s been the last couple of years,” Yost said. “He’s eating right. He’s getting his rest. He’s doing everything you would want that caliber of a player doing.”
Perez is also human, of course, which means there are days like last Monday. Perez homered against the Seattle Mariners in Peoria, then stopped at In-N-Out Burger on his way from the ballpark.
“Cheat day,” Perez tweeted.
So now another season beckons, and the evolution of Salvador Perez continues. What do you after accomplishing the dream? Perez hopes another one is up next.
“Hopefully,” Perez said, “I can stay like this the rest of my career.”