Judging the Royals

Why Drew Butera’s new contract with Royals is a good deal for Salvador Perez

Salvador Perez should be smiling after the Royals reached agreement recently with his backup, Drew Butera, on a new, two-year contract.
Salvador Perez should be smiling after the Royals reached agreement recently with his backup, Drew Butera, on a new, two-year contract. jsleezer@kcstar.com

If you’re a Royals fan you probably already know catcher Drew Butera signed a two-year deal to stay in Kansas City. What you might not think about is why that’s also a good deal for Salvador Perez.

Perez appeared in 150 games in 2014. Butera arrived in May of 2015, and that year Perez appeared in 142 games. In 2016, Perez appeared in 139.

Nobody is going to throw other backup catchers under the bus, but the pattern indicates that Ned Yost and the Royals have more trust in Butera than their previous backups. And that takes pressure off Perez. Salvy’s a big catcher, and big catchers tend to have knee problems, so any inning caught by Butera is another inning Perez doesn’t have to catch. And that helps Perez stay healthy.

How your backup catcher’s arm dictates your starter’s days off

I spend a great deal of time talking to Rusty Kuntz (another guy I’m happy to have back) because Rusty’s been in baseball since dinosaurs roamed the Earth. And every time I talk to him, I learn something new.

One day we were talking about Butera, and Rusty said that if a backup catcher doesn’t throw well, his team will have to wait until it plays a team that doesn’t run much to give the starting catcher a day off. Put the backup behind the plate with a bunch of jackrabbits on the bases and the backup catcher will get abused.

Rusty said Butera throws well enough that the Royals can give Perez a day off whenever they feel like it; they don’t have to wait to play someone like the Baltimore Orioles to put Butera behind the plate.

And Butera hits enough (.285/.328/.480 in 2016) that he isn’t a black hole in the batting order.

Why teams prefer known quantities

At this time of year, fans love to speculate about which players will wind up on what teams. But fans don’t know all there is to know about a player. We can all look up their numbers, but numbers don’t tell you everything worth knowing.

For instance:

Is the guy a team-first player or a me-first player?

What’s he like in the clubhouse?

Does he like to party?

Is he a hard worker?

Who does he hang out with?

Will he be a good or bad influence on his teammates?

If you’re going to give a guy millions of dollars and make him part of your family — and over the course of 162 games, that’s what teams are — you want to know who you’re inviting inside the inner circle. You’re going to have to live with this guy for seven and a half months — eight and a half, if you’re lucky — so you might want to know something about your new teammate beyond his OPS.

That’s why smart teams call around before making an offer; they want to know about a player’s reputation. Is the guy a jerk who irritated his old teammates, or a guy who improved the clubhouse chemistry?

When you see a player bouncing from team to team all the time, it’s a bad sign. When a player like Butera spends a couple years in an organization and they offer him another two years, it’s a good sign. The Royals have been around Butera long enough to know what they’re getting, and they want him back.

So if you like Perez, pull for Butera

We don’t spend a lot of time thinking about a player’s teammates, but we should.

Players are not robots that can be plucked from one team and plugged into another without consequence. Your teammates make you better or worse, and this is one of the least understood (or examined) parts of sports: What effect does one player have on another?

If Butera plays well, that means Perez gets more time off. And that helps prevent one of Salvy’s knees from going ka-blooey.

And that’s a good deal for everybody.

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