Salvador Perez won’t be ready for Opening Day.
Less than a month after the Kansas City Royals rewarded him with a five-year, $7 million contract, Perez now has a meniscus tear — an injury serious enough that the Royals decided to send its starting catcher back to Kansas City for surgery. Now that there’s some uncertainty surrounding Perez, it’s unclear how the Royals will respond.
Knee injuries can be terrible, but a meniscus tear is generally pretty mild. In most cases, the tear require about a month — give or take a few weeks — to heal. Dayton Moore echoed that sentiment, saying Perez will miss three to four weeks in a best-case scenario. The fact that Perez is a catcher will likely play a major role in his recovery process — and could make that recovery a bit more complicated.
In recent years, some high profile players have undergone surgery for the same injury. Unfortunately, only one of them was in a similar situation as Perez. CC Sabathia‘s injury wasn’t serious enough for immediate surgery, and he was able to play through pain until the off-season. Chipper Jones also attempted to play through a meniscus injury, which was described as a “minor tear.” As a result, Jones only missed about three weeks, the minimum for this type of injury.
The only player who recently suffered a tear that immediately needed surgery was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez underwent his surgery in early July, and returned in late August, missing a total of six weeks.
There was one catcher last season who was initially diagnosed with only a meniscus tear, but tests showed something far worse. The Houston Astros thought Jason Castro suffered a meniscus tear around this time last year, but when he arrived in Houston, Castro learned that he’d also torn his ACL. Castro, who was expected to be an Astros’ starter, didn’t play a single game in the majors last year. It’d be foolish to assume a similar fate for Perez, but Castro’s story is still a worrisome reminder that knee injuries aren’t always what they seem.
It’s unclear how the Royals are planning to replace Perez. If the team chooses to stick with what it has, Brayan Pena seems to be the most likely candidate to take over the starting job. He’s not a patient hitter, but at least he makes contact. Still, Pena has compiled just 0.7 WAR in the past three seasons, meaning he’s probably not an ideal starting option. At the same time, ZiPS projects Pena’s line to be .267/.310/.380 this season. Considering the average catcher hit just .245/.310/.390 last season, that’s actually not terrible. He’s only projected to receive 242 plate appearances, and there’s no telling whether he’ll be exposed with more playing time. If Perez’s injury isn’t too serious, the Royals could play Pena until Perez is ready to return.
But the Royals have always been somewhat hesitant to give Pena more playing time. In 2010, the team was still playing the Jason Kendall over Pena. And Perez jumped Pena last season. If there’s a chance Perez will miss more time than initially expected, it’s unclear whether the Royals will pursue a veteran catcher. But outside of Ramon Castro and Ivan Rodriguez, there’s not much else out there. Rodriguez still wants to play, and he’d probably be open to a deal with the team. Still, he’s also 41 years old. Castro has always had power, but he’s probably not much of an upgrade over Pena.
Since the team isn’t expected to contend this season, it wouldn’t make sense for them to trade for a catcher, either. They’re committed to Perez long-term, and he might only miss a couple of weeks. Overreacting and giving up anything for a catcher would be a panic-move by the front office. There’s just no reason to do it.
While the injury certainly puts a damper on the start of the Royals’ season, meniscus tears aren’t typically the type of injury to get worked up about. Once he’s recovered, he should be good as new. If the injury is worse than expected, Royals’ fans have permission to worry. But even then, Perez would be fully recovered by the time the team was ready to make a run in its division.