Royals must collectively pick up the slack with Salvador Perez out for the season

Royals OF Alex Gordon on Salvador Perez missing all of 2019: ‘It’s a big blow to us’

Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon discusses how the team will replace the presence of Salvador Perez after the news that the All-Star catcher will have elbow surgery, ending his 2019 season.
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Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon discusses how the team will replace the presence of Salvador Perez after the news that the All-Star catcher will have elbow surgery, ending his 2019 season.

In the immediate aftermath of the news that All-Star catcher, Gold Glove winner and team leader Salvador Perez will have to sit out this season following surgery, the general tone of the Royals was a mix of sadness for “Salvy” and reminders that the sky is not falling.

It was not nearly as bright and cheery around camp — it did rain early on Wednesday at the Royals facility — but the Royals won’t fold up shop on the 2019 season.

The Royals announced on Tuesday that Perez, a six-time All-Star and five-time Gold Glove catcher, will have season-ending surgery to repair the damaged ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow of his throwing arm. He was scheduled to have Tommy John surgery on Wednesday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with him,” Royals veteran left fielder Alex Gordon. “I know this is tough for him because he loves playing baseball and he loves being out there for his team. It’s definitely going to hurt our lineup a little bit, but there’s a lot of guys that need to step up. It’s not going to be one guy, it’s going to have to be the whole team to replace a guy like that.”

The Royals are expected to move forward with the combination of Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria at catcher for the immediate future. Gallagher has played 35 games in the majors, while Viloria has played 10. The entirety of Viloria’s big-league experience came last September after he got called up from High-A.

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Gordon, the elder statesman of the roster, and Perez have stepped into leadership roles as the roster has gotten younger. They’ve been the clubhouse leaders as well as part of the bridge between the World Series runs in 2014 and 2015 along with guys like veteran pitcher Danny Duffy.

“There’s not going to be any panic,” Gordon said. “He’s been around the game for a while. Even though last year was his first year, he’s been around the game. He knows how to prepare. … Cam’s capable of filling in for him and doing a good job. We’re excited to see what he can do, but it’s definitely a big blow, no question about it. Salvy is our leader, so it’s tough. But we’ll all figure it out.”

Perez, 28, remains under contract through the 2021 season. He’s expected to travel with the team and be around the club on a regular basis as he rehabs following surgery.

The club’s cleanup hitter in 76 games last season, Perez hit 27 home runs, had 80 RBIs and posted .439 slugging percentage while batting .235 with a .274 on-base percentage.

“Obviously, Salvy is a great player, but it’s not like basketball where you’re losing your main scorer,” second baseman Whit Merrifield said.

“He was one spot in that nine-man lineup. We’ve got eight other guys that are going to have to step up and pick up his slack, and have Cam step in and play well or whoever they put behind the plate. I’m looking forward to seeing what Cam can do. We’ll be ready. We’ll step up, some guys will step up and hopefully handle it a little better than we did last year.”

Royals catcher Cam Gallagher and manager Ned Yost talk about how the team will move forward after the news that All-Star and Gold Glove winner Salvador Perez will have elbow surgery that will prevent him from playing in 2019.

Gallagher, 26, is a 2011 second-round pick out of Lancaster, Pa. He’s batted .218 with a .274 on-base percentage and .333 slugging percentage in 35 games in the majors. He’d hit .247 in eight seasons in the minors.

He’s enjoyed success in the minors against left-handed pitchers. Last season, he batted .328 against lefties at Triple-A and he batted .388 against lefties in 2017 at Triple-A.

Gallagher’s strengths are his defensive work behind the plate as well as his handling of the pitching staff. He’s been in the Royals system since 2011 and has spent time in the majors in parts of the past two regular seasons, which gives him a level familiarity with the pitching staff.

“I’ve just got to take it day-by-day to not put too much pressure on myself,” Gallagher said. “It’s tough to fill in the shoes for Sal, I mean Gold Glove, heck of a teammate, great with the bat as well, but I’ve got to stay within in my game. Whenever I my names gets called upon, I’ve got to produce. I’m just going to keep the same approach. Nothing changes in my mind.”

Royals outfielder/designated hitter Jorge Soler appears the likely choice to move into Perez’s cleanup spot in the batting order, at least initially. Manager Ned Yost also left open the possibility that minor-league first baseman Frank Schwindel could be an option to play catcher at times. Schwindel has caught previously.

The organization hasn’t ruled out the possibility of adding a catcher via free agency.

“Right now, yeah, Cam and Viloria are doing a really nice job,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We’ll see when we get to the end of spring training, see what becomes available. We’ll got from there. Do we have confidence in Cam and Viloria? Yeah, we do. But you’re always looking to get better one way or the other.”

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.