Salvador Perez spent his Thursday exploring Kyoto, the former imperial capital of Japan and the latest stop on the MLB All-Star Series tour. He signed autographs for fans. He pressed his hands together and posed for a picture with Dodgers star Yasiel Puig. Awaiting him on Friday was a train trip to Tokyo and a date at the Tokyo Dome for a task he has undertaken on a daily basis since April: Catching yet another game.
Perez set a major-league record by catching 158 games this past season. That includes 15 postseason appearances his team tacked onto a tally that already led all fellow catchers. His offensive production evaporated along the way. He transformed into a free-swinging, undisciplined hacker.
General manager Dayton Moore did not forbid Perez, or teammate Alcides Escobar, from participating in the offseason tour. But as the Royals prepare for next season, Moore acknowledged the organization must be more judicious about resting Perez.
“Salvy wants to play every day,” Moore said. “Having him behind the plate put our best team on the field. That’s what we were trying to do. But I think going forward we’ve got to look for some opportunities to get him a little more in balance.”
Royals officials departed the Arizona Biltmore on Thursday’s final day of the GM Meetings. A group of high-ranking officials left the day before, with the hope of seeing Cuban slugger Yasmani Tomas work out in the Dominican Republic. Tomas, a 24-year-old outfielder, emerged as the most alluring target on the Kansas City radar. Still, the club opened discussions with a slew of players, from Ervin Santana to Torii Hunter to Billy Butler.
Moore stresses the Royals offense can improve from within. Perez is a perfect example of this belief. He received his second consecutive All-Star berth and started behind the plate for the American League. Then, in the second half, his bat became lifeless.
The juxtaposition between the two halves is stark. Perez hit .283 with 11 homers and a .765 on-base plus slugging percentage in the first 85 games. From there, those numbers sank to .229, six and .595.
In the process he became the least-disciplined hitter in the majors. He swung at 52.6 percent of the pitches he saw outside the strike zone, according to FanGraphs. He swung at 82.8 percent of the pitches he saw inside the strike zone. He led all qualified hitters in both categories.
At the time, manager Ned Yost cited Perez’s theoretical anxiety, his desire to provide his club with a big hit, as the source of his hacking. But the Royals understand part of Perez’s offensive collapse stemmed from his fatigue. They intend to correct that in 2015.
Moore expressed his faith in Erik Kratz and Francisco Peña, who serve as the two backups behind Perez on the depth chart. Peña impressed team officials during his first season in the organization. He hit 27 homers in 96 games with Class AAA Omaha. The Royals would also prefer Perez spending the occasional day at designated hitter.
“We know that Sal is capable of having a lot more offensive output,” Moore said. “Catching is, in my opinion, maybe the most demanding position in all of athletics. So there’s no doubt it can take a toll on you offensively, catching every day.”