Salvador Pérez still remembers growing up in the coastal Venezuelan city of Valencia, where as a youngster he would take batting practice against his mother with a broomstick and later play organized ball with the likes of José Altuve.
He never thought a day like Sunday could be possible.
That's when the Royals gave the six-time All-Star catcher an $82 million, four-year deal — the richest in club history — that will begin after his current contract in 2022. The deal ties Pérez to the only organization for which he's played until at least 2025, though a club option worth $13.5 million could keep him around for that season, too.
“It's hard to believe where I'm coming from, where I grew up, to see the situation I have right now, it makes me feel super happy,” Pérez said from the Royals' spring training home in Surprise, Arizona. “My mother is going to be happy. I know my grandma is going to be happy. I know they're excited for me to be here for four more years, maybe five.”
Pérez is due a base salary of $13 million as he completes his current $52.5 million, five-year contract. He will make $18 million next season, $20 million each in 2023 and 2024, and $22 million in 2025, of which $2 million will be deferred without interest and payable on June 30, 2027. The deal includes a $2 million buyout of the 2026 club option.
The value of the new deal surpasses the $72 million four-year contract the Royals gave outfielder Alex Gordon in 2016.
“Nobody loves to play baseball more than Salvador Pérez. There are players that like it just as much but nobody loves it more,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Nobody can imagine him not being here.”
Pérez, who turns 31 in May, has not only established himself as one of the game's premier catchers but also one of the most beloved players in Royals history. He was World Series MVP in 2015, when the club broke its 30-year title drought, and is coming off a season in which he hit .333 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs to win his third Silver Slugger.
He also has five Gold Gloves to his name, and the Royals are counting on his ability to bring out the best in their pitchers to help a young and promising starting rotation that they hope will lead them back to the playoffs.
“I mean, the catching position is without a doubt the most demanding position in our game,” Moore said. “It's hard, I think almost impossible, to win championships unless you have somebody behind the plate, somebody at the catcher position, that's a leader — that brings out the confidence in your pitching staff. And Salvy does all that.”
Indeed, Pérez also has proven to be durable behind the plate. He appeared in at least 129 games six consecutive seasons, often arguing against getting days off, until missing the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery.
He returned to have one of the best seasons of his career during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
“It's the same with everybody: You trust your medical people,” Moore said. “Of course we talked about Salvy, but at the end of the day, they all signed off on it because they believe in his work ethic. They believe in the condition of his body. They believe in his heart and mind to play. He puts himself in a position to go out there every single day.”
Pérez also happens to be a personal favorite of John Sherman, the former part-owner of the AL Central rival Indians, who leads the ownership group that purchased the Royals from the late David Glass prior to last season.
Sherman called a summit in Florida in January that included Moore, Pérez and several other executives, and it was during that meeting that they began hashing out the framework for the new contract. It wound up getting done just weeks before opening day, when the Royals hope to welcome about 10,000 fans back to Kauffman Stadium for each game.
“You know, they believe in me and what I do on the field,” Pérez said, “and all the fans in Kansas City, you know?”
The small-market Royals have long had a reputation for being stingy with contracts, but Pérez's new deal is the latest sign that Sherman and the new owners are willing to open the checkbook to put a winner on the field.
This past offseason alone, the Royals signed slugging first baseman Carlos Santana to a two-year, $17.5 million contract; they worked an aggressive three-team trade to land Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi; they lured right-hander Mike Minor back to town with a two-year, $18 million deal; they bolstered their beleaguered bullpen by signing former All-Star pitchers Greg Holland and Wade Davis, both part of their championship past.
They also have shown a willingness to reward their own. The Royals started March off by signing third baseman Hunter Dozier to a four-year, $25 million contract with the hope that he can bounce back from a rough 2020 season.
As for Pérez, he had no interest in trying out free agency for the first time after this season.
“I want to stay here,” he said simply. “I want to finish my career here."
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports