Royals activate Salvador Perez from IL after thumb surgery

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NEW YORK — The Kansas City Royals activated All-Star catcher Salvador Perez from the injured list and put him in the starting lineup against the New York Yankees.

The reigning major league home run leader was set to bat third as the designated hitter barely a month after surgery to repair a torn ligament in his left thumb.

“He’s the heart and soul of our club,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’re really fortunate to have him back.”

Kansas City initially estimated the 32-year-old Perez would need eight weeks to recover after surgery June 24, but doctors assured the club he was ready for big league action.

“At that point, I think we take whatever we think our preconcieved idea was of how long it should take and throw it out the window,” Matheny said.

Perez, a seven-time All-Star, played three minor league rehab games with Triple-A Omaha and went 4 for 8. He caught one game and was the DH in two others. He warmed up prior to Friday night’s game with a first baseman’s mitt, although the five-time Gold Glove winner hasn’t played the position since 2020.

Perez led the majors with 48 homers in 2021 but was slumping this year prior to the surgery. He’s hitting .211 with 11 home runs, 34 RBIs and a career-low .680 OPS in 57 games. He’s in the first year of a team-record $82 million, four-year contract.

The clubhouse leader returns to a club that could look quite different in a few days. The Royals entered Friday 39-60 and in last place in the AL Central after trading outfielder Andrew Benintendi to the Yankees on Wednesday. They could unload more players before Tuesday’s trade deadline.

Rookie shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. was held out of the lineup for a fifth straight game with right hamstring soreness, but Matheny is optimistic he’ll play before the end of the weekend. Witt ramped up his pregame work Friday, including a lengthy batting practice.

The 22-year-old Witt is batting .258 with 14 homers, 51 RBIs and a .760 OPS.

Rays’ Díaz gets $24 million, three-year deal, avoids arbitration

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Tampa Bay Rays infielder Yandy Díaz agreed to a $24 million, three-year contract on Tuesday that avoided a salary arbitration hearing.

Díaz’s agreement could be worth $36 million over four seasons.

The 31-year old will receive $6 million this season, $8 million in 2024 and $10 million for 2025. The 2026 club is $12 million with no buyout. There is a $1 million assignment bonus that would be payable by receiving team.

Díaz has spent parts of six seasons in the majors with Cleveland (2017-18) and Tampa Bay (2019-22). He has a career average of .278 with 39 home runs and 198 RBIs.

Acquired by the Rays in a three-team trade on Dec. 13, 2018, Díaz hit .296 with nine homers and 57 RBIs in 137 games last season, He career highs with 71 runs, 140 hits, 33 doubles, and 78 walks.

Díaz was the third Rays’ arbitration-eligible player to reach a deal.

Reliever Pete Fairbanks agreed Friday to a $12 million, three-year contract that could be worth up to $24.6 million over four seasons. The 29-year-old right-hander was 0-0 with a 1.13 ERA in 24 appearances last year after beginning the season on the 60-day injured list with a right lat strain.

Left-hander Jeffrey Springs also agreed last week to a $31 million, four-year contract that could be worth $65.75 million over five seasons.

The 30-year-old began last season in the bullpen and transitioned to the starting rotation in May and finished 9-5 with a 2.46 ERA in 33 appearances, including 25 starts.

Tampa Bay remains scheduled for hearings with right-handers Jason Adam and Ryan Thompson, left-hander Colin Poche, and outfielder Harold Ramírez.