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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Risk of the Gamble in Baseball

Baseball is all about gambling; not the type that got the Black Sox and Pete Rose banned for life, but the way teams invest in their players and staff under the belief that they will provide them the best chance of winning. This gambling most often takes the form of a contract; locking up players and coaches for a finite amount of time for varying amounts of money. Sometimes teams are rewarded by such acts of faith, but in other situations they may feel that burning their money in a bonfire was a better use of resources. Today, the Kansas City Royals saw one of their most recent gambles take a major hit and have to be hoping that all turns out for the best.

Just after the start of spring training, the Royals agreed to a 5 year, $7 million contract with 21 year old catcher Salvador Perez.  Despite having previously played in only 39 major league games (where he hit .331), the team felt that he was their catcher of the future and decided to gamble on him by giving him an extension. With Perez being years away from free agency, the Royals were not obligated to give him such a contract, but they were confident that he would develop into at least a useful player and pay future dividends.

After warming up a pitcher on Tuesday, Perez left Royals’ camp with a knee injury. A later examination revealed a lateral meniscus tear in his knee. He is now slated to have surgery and will be out of action for at least 3-4 weeks, with that timeline being subject to change depending on the severity of his tear. Being a catcher and relying so much on his knees, the injury is particularly concerning, as he will need to be fully healthy in order to return and there are many variables as to the extent of the repair and rehab of his knee.

While Perez’s injury is not career ending, it still leaves the Royals with a great deal of worry. At this time they don’t know when he can return, and when he does, how much time it will take him to get back to full strength. They also don’t know how this time away may impact his development, as such a young catcher requires as much time as possible with coaches and pitchers when trying to assume the responsibility of leading a staff. Finally, extending Perez and making him the starter before he had even established himself in camp left the team perilously thin at catcher. With the position being so pivotal to a team’s success, the Royals were already pushing the envelope by entrusting turning the team over to the unproven Perez. Now absent a trade, they will need to patchwork a solution behind the plate between career backup Brayan Pena and another unproven player or two from the minors.

Hopefully, Perez will find out that he has a minor tear and can quickly return to the Royals, but until he does the team and their fans will be left to wonder. Even if Perez is out for a period of time or doesn’t pan out as the player the Royals hoped for, the team will not have lost much in the grand financial scheme of the game. However, the situation that has arisen with Perez’s injury is a perfect example of the delicate balance in baseball on whether or not a player makes good on a contract and the gamble teams take on them.


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