Injuries at a position of organizational weakness often leads to desperation. If the Royals were a bit too eager to achieve cost certainty by locking in their young catching prospect, Salvador Perez, to a five-year contract, at least they were doing something.
Never mind that the .331/.361/.473 Perez hit in 39 major-league games last fall didn’t bear much resemblance to his minor-league numbers—"Heck, he’s a growing boy, just 22 this year! If those numbers aren’t real, he’ll grow into them!"—it’s the Royals. They hadn’t seen this many good young players since the days of Willie Wilson and George Brett. They could be forgiven a case of overenthusiastic contract-itis.
Of course, no sooner had they done this than Perez’s left knee became hypothetical, and faster than you can say, “torn left meniscus,” the surgeons made him disappear for at least the next three months.
As Elvis Costello sang, “God’s Comic:” He giveth prospects, he taketh them away, and he periodically remindeth us of the days of Darrell Porter and John Wathan and maketh us lie down with a headache.
Congratulations on your newly inflexible young catcher, fellas.
As Casey Stengel famously said, you have to have a catcher or you’re going to suffer an overabundance of passed balls. Unfortunately, the Royals were pretty much catcher-free.
Confirmed non-hitter Brayan Pena was the last catcher standing. Former Braves and Rangers prospect Max Ramirez is having a hot spring, but is a poor defender and hasn’t shown any sustained ability to hit at the Triple-A level. Organizational player Manny Pina also suffered a torn meniscus and won’t be gone nearly long enough—with career minor-league rates of .250/.317/.358, no amount of defense could make up for his lack of bat.
With few catchers available and in desperate need of bodies, the Royals were forced to solve their problem with more apples from the same tree as Pena and Pina.
As of this afternoon, they are the proud owners of veteran Astros receiver Humberto Quintero. Quintero is a solid catch-and-throw backstop who cannot hit. He’s a career .234/.268/.321 hitter who inspired Gertrude Stein to remark, “There’s no there there.”
The Royals can’t be choosy now, so he’ll play, and perhaps even give the Royals a little extra benefit in providing an experienced hand who can steady a Jonathan Sanchez or Danny Duffy. Otherwise, he’s the definition of a replacement-level catcher.
Along with Quintero, the Royals received speedy reserve outfielder Jason Bourgeois, who will now compete with John Proletariat for a bench role. Okay, that's not true, but if life were as amusing as I like to pretend, he would be.
Bourgeois was drafted by the Rangers back in 2000 and spent most of a decade in the minors before the Astros gave him a shot at a big-league backup job in 2010. With career .296/.348/.405 rates in over 500 career games at Triple-A, he showed he could slap a single, steal a base and hit left-handed pitching—abilities that could be of value to the right team.
In 2011, he started the season crazy-hot, hitting .354/.374/.449 through the end of July. His bat largely quit thereafter, and he finished at .294/.323/.357 with 31 steals in just 93 games. Note his platoon splits: .396/.430/.495 against lefties, .291/.241/.255 against normal-handers.
In return for this bounty, the Royals gave up left-handed pitching prospect Kevin Chapman and a player to be named later. Baseball America rated Chapman as the organization’s 18th-best prospect coming into the season, citing his 93-to-95 mph fastball, inconsistent command and shaky mechanics. A reliever, he has a 5.06 ERA in 56 minor-league games with an impressive 12.4 strikeouts per nine. Given that he reached Double-A last season, you could see him in an Astros uniform this year.
So, get excited, folks; the Royals have acquired a living human to catch their pitchers.
The whole sequence is a bit depressing. The Royals were once a great franchise, but at this point, it has been so long that you have to have been a certain age to know it. For those of us who were around, it’s like being part of a documentary about the first World War or Titanic survivors. “Today, there are only 17 living Americans who can say they were there.”
It’s an embarrassment that this team has been down as long as it has, and while Perez wasn’t a lock to be part of the prosperity-is-just-around-the-corner turnaround, it’s a shame that his chance to try will be delayed.
The Royals have once again gone, at least temporarily, from great expectations to just sliding by.