Royals give Salvador Pérez four-year, $82M deal; richest in team history

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Salvador Perez 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 Jose 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 Perez 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,” Perez 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.”

Perez 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 Perez. 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.”

Perez, 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, Perez 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.”

Perez 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, Perez 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,” Perez 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 Perez’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 Perez, 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.”

Yankees star Judge hits 61st home run, ties Maris’ AL record

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TORONTO — Aaron Judge tied Roger Maris’ American League record of 61 home runs in a season, hitting a tiebreaking, two-run drive for the New York Yankees in the seventh inning against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday night.

The 30-year-old slugger drove a 94.5 mph belt-high sinker with a full-count from left-hander Tim Mayza over the left-field fence at Rogers Centre. The 117.4 mph drive took just 3.8 seconds to land 394 feet from the plate, and it put the Yankees ahead 5-3.

Judge watched the ball clank off the front of the stands, just below two fans who reached over a railing and tried for a catch. He pumped an arm just before reaching first and exchanged a slap with coach Travis Chapman.

The ball dropped into Toronto’s bullpen and was picked up by Blue Jays bullpen coach Matt Buschmann, who turned it over to the Yankees.

Judge’s mother and Roger Maris Jr. rose and hugged from front-row seats. He appeared to point toward them after rounding second base, then was congratulated by the entire Yankees team, who gave him hugs after he crossed the plate.

Judge moved past the 60 home runs Babe Ruth hit in 1927, which had stood as the major league mark until Maris broke it in 1961. All three stars reached those huge numbers playing for the Yankees.

Barry Bonds holds the big league record of 73 for the San Francisco Giants in 2001.

Judge had gone seven games without a home run – his longest drought this season was nine in mid-August. This was the Yankees’ 155th game of the season, leaving them seven more in the regular season.

The home run came in the fourth plate appearance of the night for Judge, ending a streak of 34 plate appearances without a home run.

Judge is hitting .313 with 130 RBIs, also the top totals in the AL. He has a chance to become the first AL Triple Crown winner since Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera in 2012.

Maris hit No. 61 for the Yankees on Oct. 1, 1961, against Boston Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard.

Maris’ mark has been exceeded six times, but all have been tainted by the stench of steroids. Mark McGwire hit 70 home runs for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1998 and 65 the following year, and Bonds topped him. Sammy Sosa had 66, 65 and 63 during a four-season span starting in 1998.

McGwire admitted using banned steroids, while Bonds and Sosa denied knowingly using performing-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball started testing with penalties for PEDs in 2004, and some fans – perhaps many – until now have considered Maris the holder of the “clean” record.

Among the tallest batters in major league history, the 6-foot-7 Judge burst on the scene on Aug. 13, 2016, homering off the railing above Yankee Stadium’s center-field sports bar and into the netting above Monument Park. He followed Tyler Austin to the plate and they become the first teammates to homer in their first major league at-bats in the same game.

Judge hit 52 homers with 114 RBIs the following year and was a unanimous winner of the AL Rookie of the Year award. Injuries limited him during the following three seasons, and he rebounded to hit 39 homers with 98 RBIs in 2021.

As he approached his last season before free agent eligibility, Judge on opening day turned down the Yankees’ offer of an eight-year contract worth from $230.5 million to $234.5 million. The proposal included an average of $30.5 million annually from 2023-29, with his salary this year to be either the $17 million offered by the team in arbitration or the $21 million requested by the player.

An agreement was reached in June on a $19 million, one-year deal, and Judge heads into this offseason likely to get a contract from the Yankees or another team for $300 million or more, perhaps topping $400 million.

Judge hit six homers in April, 12 in May and 11 in June. He earned his fourth All-Star selection and entered the break with 33 homers. He had 13 homers in July and dropped to nine in August, when injuries left him less protected in the batting order and pitchers walked him 25 times.

He became just the fifth player to hold a share of the AL season record. Nap Lajoie hit 14 in the AL’s first season as a major league in 1901, and Philadelphia Athletics teammate Socks Seabold had 16 the next year, a mark that stood until Babe Ruth hit 29 in 1919. Ruth set the record four times in all, with 54 in 1920, 59 in 1921 and 60 in 1927, a mark that stood until Maris’ 61 in 1961.

Maris was at 35 in July 1961 during the first season each team’s schedule increased from 154 games to 162, and baseball Commissioner Ford Frick ruled if anyone topped Ruth in more than 154 games “there would have to be some distinctive mark in the record books to show that Babe Ruth’s record was set under a 154-game schedule.”

That “distinctive mark” became known as an “asterisk” and it remained until Sept. 4, 1991, when a committee on statistical accuracy chaired by Commissioner Fay Vincent voted unanimously to recognize Maris as the record holder.