On the day before his life changed again, Salvador Perez collected his things inside the Royals clubhouse and pushed his car across town, to a tattoo parlor in El Mirage named Platinum Ink. Perez, the reigning World Series MVP, met a man named Jason Daywitt, a local artist, and arranged for a specialty design — an exact replica of the Royals’ World Series championship logo.
The tattoo would be large and blue and find a permanent home on the face of Perez’s right bicep. It would also cost him nothing; Perez offered Daywitt a few baseballs for his trouble. But as Perez sat in a parlor chair on Monday, the ink job would soon symbolize something more. One day later, on late Tuesday morning, Perez and the Royals agreed on a five-year contract extension starting next season that will keep the All-Star catcher in Kansas City through 2021.
“Six more years,” Perez said Tuesday, during a news conference announcing the deal. “Hopefully, I play the rest of my career here. That’s what I’ve always said. I want to be one of those guys, George Brett, Frank White. Hopefully I can stay here.”
The new contract will guarantee Perez $52.5 million from 2017 to 2021 and includes a $6 million signing bonus, according to a source familiar with the contract.
Perez is entering the final season of a five-year, $7 million contract signed before the 2012 season. When the new contract starts, he will make $3 million in 2017, $7.5 million in 2018, $10 million in 2019 and $13 million in 2020 and 2021. Perez, 25, will be 31 when he hits free agency following the 2021 season.
In most tangible ways, the deal locked up a franchise catcher through the heart of his prime years and served to extend the Royals’ championship window. The consummation of the deal also sent ripples throughout baseball, a contract extension that was nearly unprecedented in circumstances and scope. The Royals, a small-market franchise with limited resources, possessed three club options on Perez, controlling a valuable asset through the 2019 season. Beginning next year, the Royals could pay Perez just $16.5 million over three seasons in one of the most cost-friendly contracts in the game.
As a result, the Royals owned leverage in negotiations and had little motivation to rush into a new contract. And yet, Royals general manager Dayton Moore was determined to get one done.
“We went into Salvy’s previous deal with expectations that obviously he was going to be a terrific player,” Moore said. “We’ve always believed in him — as a talent, as a person, as a teammate. And he’s out-performed that contract. He’s an underpaid player in the game.”
As Moore spoke, he referenced former Royals pitcher Gil Meche, who chose to walk away from the game in 2011 and gave back the final $12 million of a guaranteed $55 million deal. This time, Moore said, the club sought to do the right thing.
“You focus on what’s right for Sal,” Moore said. “We’ve said from day one, that we want to create an organization that we’d want our own sons and family to be a part of. Well, Salvy’s family.”
The Royals, according to Moore, began discussions with Perez’s representatives last spring training, after Perez had replaced the agent who negotiated his previous deal with Rick Thurman of Beverly Hills Sports Council. The conversations picked up steam this offseason, with both sides weighting Perez’s age, his position and his size.
“This was a very unique contract negotiation,” Thurman said. “I think for both sides.”
The new contract maintains some of the integrity of the old one. The Royals’ three option years on Perez were worth $16.5 million, so the new deal is, in effect, worth an additional $36 million, as well as two extra years, covering the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The Royals, Moore said, believe Perez will be able to stay at catcher throughout the length of the deal. And for now, Perez no longer has to answer questions about his old, club-friendly contract.
“That was a good deal in that moment,” Perez said, speaking of his old deal. “But everything changed.”
For Perez, the new contract guarantees financial security and more cash up front in the form of the $6 million signing bonus. For the Royals, they have locked in a franchise cornerstone for the next six seasons, the latest domino to fall as Moore seeks to extend his club’s window to contend.
In early January, the Royals re-signed Alex Gordon to a four-year, $72 million contract, keeping an All-Star left fielder and homegrown star. Later that month, the club signed right-hander Ian Kennedy to a five-year, $72 million contract that will keep him in Kansas City through 2020 — should Kennedy not elect to use an opt-out clause after two seasons. Those deals came after right-handed pitcher Yordano Ventura agreed to an extension last spring that could keep him under club control through 2021.
The Royals still have a large chunk of core players set to become free agents following the 2017 season, but for the moment, the club can count on a homegrown, All-Star catcher remaining a fixture in Kansas City.
In five seasons, Perez has established himself as one of the game’s most indispensable players, a two-way weapon capable of handling a pitching staff, controlling a running game and changing a game with one swing of the bat. Last fall, as the Royals barreled to a title, Perez batted .364 with a .391 on-base percentage in five World Series games, earning MVP honors.
“I think everybody knew that Salvy was out-performing his contract he had,” Gordon said. “Just what he does for this team, how he leads this team. (He) never complains.”
Since debuting in 2011, Perez has appeared in three straight All-Star Games and earned three consecutive Gold Glove awards. In 2015, he batted .260 with a .280 on-base percentage and a career-high 21 homers. He has averaged 3.2 Wins Above Replacement since 2013. He has also been an iron man, setting a record for games caught in 2014. Along with Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, Perez has become the face of baseball in Kansas City.
“It was love at first sight for me when I saw him in A ball,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, who first saw Perez at Class A Wilmington in 2010. “I’ve been in major-league baseball for 25 or 26 years and I’ve seen two catchers of All-Star caliber — Javier Lopez and Salvy. They don’t grow on trees.”
For the past five seasons, Yost said, he has watched Perez grow from a 21-year-old kid, debuting in the big leagues in August 2011, to a 25-year-old man, the anchor of a championship team. In the moments after the Royals clinched the World Series last November, Yost found Perez on the infield grass at Citi Field and told him he wanted Perez to live with him this offseason.
“You come live with me,” Yost recalled saying. “You come live with me this winter. I’m going to teach you how to hunt, how to fish. And I was half-joking, but Salvy says, ‘Let me think about it.’ ”
The manager and the catcher did not live together the offseason, but they will inhabit the same clubhouse for years to come. On early Tuesday morning, Perez arrived at the Royals spring training complex and showed Yost his new tattoo. He called his mother, Yilda, who cried upon hearing the news. He then headed out to a practice field, taking his spot behind the plate during a morning workout.
“He’s the heartbeat of the club,” Moore said. “He’s one of those guys that shows up every single day, and the position is such a high premium spot on the field, as we all know. We feel really, really good.”