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Here they come again. Welcome to another episode of Salvador Perez trade rumors on the South Side.
This time, it’s The Score’s Bruce Levine reporting that the White Sox are interested in adding a pair of former Royals this winter in Perez, still under contract in Kansas City, and Whit Merrifield, who could hit the free-agent market by turning down his half of a mutual option with the Blue Jays.
Perez, you’ll remember, was tied to the White Sox in rumors around the trade deadline, as well, the fit seemingly obvious given Perez’s status as Pedro Grifol’s former star pupil when the current South Side skipper was coaching catchers in Kansas City.
Some White Sox fans, seeing former Royals front-office member Chris Getz promoted to general manager and Grifol coming back for a second season in the manager’s chair, are treating Perez’s hypothetical arrival as inevitable, the furthering of a perceived “Royalsification” of the White Sox, which grew when Getz hired former Royals pitcher Brian Bannister and longtime Royals front-office guy Gene Watson to his team of decision-makers.
White Sox fans don’t exactly need a crash course in how good Perez has been, as they’ve seen him routinely rake against their team for years as an AL Central rival. But he’s been one of baseball’s better offensive catchers for a long while now. Off the field, he’s praised for his leadership and positive clubhouse presence. It’s all raised him to franchise-icon status in Kansas City, where he was awarded team captaincy years after he helped the Royals to back-to-back AL pennants and a World Series title in 2015, a team Getz, Grifol and Watson were all part of.
But according to Levine, the Royals are open to dealing Perez away this offseason, adding more fuel to the conversational fire that would see him as a fit on the South Side.
The White Sox could definitely use catching help. Yasmani Grandal’s contract is over after years of the veteran being banged up and unable to log as much time behind the plate as hoped. Korey Lee, acquired in a deadline deal with the Astros, saw plenty of playing time in September and has received good reviews from Grifol and others. Edgar Quero, another acquisition at this year’s deadline, is one of the organization’s highest rated prospects, though he won’t turn 21 till after the start of next season, his major league arrival likely still some time off.
As of right now, Lee tops the depth chart. Whether they are comfortable with him continuing to do so or would like to have him keep learning as a backup to a veteran remains to be seen. But whether it’s Lee starting or not, the White Sox need to add a catcher of some type this winter.
Perez would be an upgrade, sure. He’s known as a formidable offensive presence, an eight-time All Star who in 2021 led baseball with 48 home runs and 121 RBIs. Those are eye-popping numbers under any circumstance, but especially when he’d be replacing Lee in the White Sox’ lineup; Lee was just 5-for-65 in his month-long stint in the majors at the end of this season.
But it’s hard to determine whether Perez fits with the White Sox’ plan, mostly because the White Sox’ plan remains significantly unannounced. There would seem to be an awful lot of work ahead of Getz & Co. to round this roster — which just lost 101 games — into good enough shape to compete for even just an AL Central title. Is that what the team plans to do next season? Or are White Sox fans in for a rebuilding year, with the front office focusing on more realistic competitiveness coming in 2025?
That might not be able to be determined until the offseason is over. But adding the 33-year-old Perez would not strike as a rebuilding-style move. Considering he makes $20 million and is due for a raise to $22 million in 2025, that’s an awfully large financial commitment — not to mention that he would have to arrive via trade, costing the White Sox player capital, as well — if the answer to whether the team will compete or not next season is, “We’ll see.” Similarly, Merrifield would likely command a high salary if he becomes a free agent, as his mutual option to stay in Toronto would pay him $18 million.
Undoubtedly, the White Sox need catching help, and they need a second baseman and a right fielder, too; Merrifield plays both positions. But they also need three starting pitchers, a closer, more bullpen arms, the other half of that second-base/right-field equation and, should they decline a team option on Tim Anderson, a shortstop. Committing more than $40 million to two players whose ages add up to 67 might not be the greatest allocation of resources — especially if the sights don’t end up being set on the 2024 season and there’s a longer-term approach in mind.
Meanwhile, it’s worth mentioning that the White Sox are getting to see what could have been.
José Abreu just helped the Astros beat the Twins, who ran away with a weak AL Central this season, to advance to the ALCS. The South Side legend hit three homers in the ALDS to eliminate the White Sox’ chief rival.
Now, Abreu’s presence alone would not have staved off the White Sox’ miserable fate in 2023, and he had the worst season of his career this year while fighting through injury for much of the season. But Abreu signed a three-year, $58.5 million free-agent deal with the Astros last winter, paying him basically the same amount Perez or Merrifield would cost this winter. While Abreu’s .680 OPS this season likely doesn’t have many White Sox fans wishing he would have been around for one of the worst years in club history, his track record was and is much better than Perez’s, despite him being three years older than the Royals catcher.
Perez has played in 12 major league seasons, though he played in just around 100 games over his first two campaigns in 2011 and 2012. In what can be described as 10 “full” seasons — he also missed the entirety of the 2019 campaign with an injury — he has been an above-average hitter in only half of them, posting an OPS-plus north of 100 five times and an OPS-plus below 100 five times. He’s had an on-base percentage above .300 just three times in those 10 seasons. From 2013 to 2022, he had 209 home runs and 672 RBIs in 4,568 plate appearances.
Meanwhile, Abreu had never posted a below-average offensive season until this year. His on-base percentage had never been below .325 until this season. From 2014 to 2022, he had 243 home runs and 863 RBIs in 4,954 plate appearances.
This is perhaps comparing apples to oranges. Perez is a 33-year-old catcher. Abreu was a 35-year-old first baseman, now 36. Plenty of folks guessed Abreu might have been in a career decline following his MVP season in 2020, and a career-worst offensive year doesn’t exactly dissuade from that notion, even if it was mostly due to an injury.
But here’s the question: If the money was equal, would the White Sox be better off with Abreu or Perez?
Abreu, too, was long lauded for his influence off the field and his role as a clubhouse leader and role model for younger players, just as Perez has been described in Kansas City.
If the White Sox are indeed focused on longer-term pursuits at this point, getting younger should be a goal, not choosing between two older players. But if they are interested in paying an aging slugger who was a below-average hitter this season $20 million to be a strong clubhouse presence for the next two years, should they have just paid Abreu last offseason?
Who knows if Abreu would have meshed with Grifol’s ideal clubhouse culture the way the manager knows Perez would from his years coaching him. Maybe that weighs far more heavily in this discussion of hypotheticals.
And who knows how hungry for another go-round Abreu even was, as his tone approaching free agency was jarringingly different from the one he had three years earlier, when he pledged to re-sign himself if a new contract wasn’t presented to him by the White Sox. His comments from this past spring talking about a lack of “family” on the South Side perhaps pointed to a desire to find a new home.
But Abreu established himself as one of the best players in franchise history during his decade on the South Side and as one of the most productive hitters in baseball, at that — a hitter that over the years produced far more consistently than Perez.
If one of the top items on the White Sox’ offseason wishlist a year after Abreu left is to acquire the exact kind of presence he was, maybe they should have just extended that tenure a few years longer?
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