Splash Hits: The return of the Wade Davis Experience
A Royals reunion, a potential contract extension and more notes
Welcome to the first edition of “Splash Hits” an occasional notes entry. This will be a kind of a catch-all of sorts, briefly hitting on topics that don’t merit a full article. It will be a little stream of consciousness, focused on the Royals, but at times touching on all of baseball. Hope you enjoy.
The return of the Wade Davis Experience. With not much going on in the country on Wednesday, the Royals announced they’re bringing back Wade Davis on a minor league contract. If he makes the major league roster, he will earn $1.25 million. There are also $1.125 million in performance bonuses if he makes it to the big league roster. It is, as they say, a low risk/high reward sort of deal.
Really. Minor league deals for struggling veterans are fine. Greg Holland returned to Kansas City on one last year and turned into a valuable contributor to the bullpen. Other times, it doesn’t work out so well, but if that’s the case, who really cares? It’s a split contract (meaning the dollars aren’t guaranteed unless he makes the club) and it doesn’t cost an immediate roster spot. The Royals can use all of spring training to make a decision on Davis, although I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some sort of opt-out date in the contract.
Davis has lost about one mph off his fastball each year since 2015. That’s a huge issue. Last year, his heater averaged 91.4 mph and the opposition dined off of it to the tune of a .417 batting average and 1.167 slugging percentage. Yikes. And that famous cutter? The velocity of that pitch is also down about five mph and was battered for a .500 BA and 1.000 SLG in 2020. Likewise troubling, his walk rate had ballooned to over 6 per nine while his strikeout rate has dropped the last couple of years.
It’s a longshot that Davis will be able to contribute, but sometimes long shots come in.
We are entering extension season. In my opening article with those bold predictions, I mentioned that it wouldn’t be surprising if the Royals negotiated extensions for both Brad Keller and Adalberto Mondesi. I stand behind that, but it feels like there was a name I missed: Salvador Perez.
Perez, of course, has already signed two extensions with the Royals. The first was inked in February of 2012 that, even with his limited major league experience at the time, was insanely tilted in favor of the club. The second, signed in March of 2016, came following the World Series title and tacked on four years at a more fair market value.
At the moment, it feels as though Perez is in a position of strength. He successfully completed his rehab from Tommy John surgery and posted the best offensive year of his career, finishing with an astronomical .633 slugging percentage and a 162 wRC+. Granted, since he missed time with an eye issue, the sample size of his 2020 season is even smaller than most regulars. But when he was healthy and in the lineup, he absolutely mashed. And his defense was as strong as ever. If anything, the year and a half away from the field left him refreshed. To borrow a term from Alex Gordon, Perez dominated in 2020.
If there is serious momentum behind an extension, there will be a couple of comparisons Perez can draw from in the current free agent market. JT Realmuto, as the best catcher in the game, is the top of the class. Speculation is he’s looking at a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $100 million. That’s the top of the scale. Perez isn’t going to reach that, but it represents the absolute ceiling. Also to be factored into the contract calculus would be James McCann, who signed with the Mets earlier this winter for four years at a total of $40.6 million. McCann and Perez were born almost exactly a month apart. That sets up a neat comparison courtesy of FanGraphs.
Kind of wild how their fortunes track with each other. But it’s also clear that Perez is the better of the two. (There was never really a debate on that.) But he has a lot more mileage behind the plate and a major injury in his history. Still, the McCann deal represents the current floor in this market.
Just for fun, let’s add Realmuto to the chart above.
So if the two sides are talking extension, four years at an average annual value of about $14 million feels like what the current market dictates. As noted earlier this week, the Royals have a lot of flexibility going forward. It’s possible the two sides could agree on three years (a sort of hometown discount), which would probably be the smart deal. No matter how strong he looked in 2020, I would be wary of locking down four years at this point in Perez’s career.
It’s something to keep an eye on as we get close to the start of the season.
Oh, Canada. The Blue Jays were almost the hot team in the free agent market, signing George Springer and for a moment appearing close to bringing in his teammate from Houston, Michael Brantley. Then Brantley re-signed with the Astros for two years at $32 million and suddenly the story just wasn’t as compelling. Still, good for the Jays on nabbing one of the top talents available and instantly making their team better in a competitive AL East.
Going back to my predictions article from earlier this week, you’ll recall that I mentioned Brantley as a potential target for the Royals, given they probably have some money left in their budget. I figured he would be available for two years at around $24 to $26 million. Turns out I’m underestimating almost every free agent deal. There’s plenty of cash to spend.
That could strap the Royals going forward who are always loathe to get into a bidding war. My current favorite target for the club would be Jackier Bradley, Jr. Initially, I had him pegged for two years at around $20-$22 million. Looks like I need to bump that up by a few million. A two-year deal is palatable, but do the Royals want to commit that kind of cabbage when they’re just emerging from their rebuild? If Bradley, Jr. is priced out of their range, the switch-hitting Jurickson Profar could fill the role.
Thank you, readers! Finally, a hearty thank you for joining me on this new platform. It’s been humbling how many have signed up to receive the emails as well as those of you who have visited through Twitter or other links. The hope is to consistently bring you something informative and entertaining about the Royals on an almost daily basis. Feel free to drop a comment, an email or a Tweet.