Before the 2019 season began, the Cleveland Indians’ front office cut costs by shipping out or neglecting to sign several fan favorite players. One of those trades saw Cleveland’s longtime catcher Yan Gomes traded to the Washington Nationals in exchange for Daniel Johnson, Jefry Rodriguez, and Andruw Monasterio. With Gomes a goner, Roberto Perez defaulted into the starting catcher’s role. While the Tribe’s lineup has mostly underwhelmed on offense, Perez is quietly assembling a career year.
Perez debuted with the Indians in 2014 primarily as a backup catcher. In his first five seasons, he averaged 59 games per season, a .205/.298/.340 slash line along with 4 homers and 20 RBI. Through 43 games in 2019, he is slashing .227/.329/.470 and has clobbered a career-high ten homers with 22 RBI in hand. He is on track for 25 homers and 55 RBI; both would be career highs. Defensively, Perez continues to call a good game. He ranks tenth in the American League in defensive WAR (0.7), second in putouts (383), third in assists as a catcher (21), second in caught stealing (10) and second in caught stealing percentage (41.9%). He still strikes out too much (33% of his 130 at-bats) and is as slow as a northeast Ohio winter, but in a season in which many of his teammates are struggling at the plate, Perez has been an unexpected source of offense. This, of course, leads one to wonder: How’s Yan Gomes doing?
Gomes has played in 40 of Washington’s 61 games. His line reads .225/.301/.318 with two dingers and 16 RBI. He has roundly struggled, and his 0.4 total WAR is the lowest he’s had since the snakebit 2016 campaign. In the National League he ranks fifth in assists as a catcher (20), fifth in caught stealing (9), and fifth in caught stealing percentage (39.1%). In several areas, the numbers between the two catchers are remarkably similar.
The last line may be the most interesting. When the front office traded Yan Gomes, they were betting that Roberto Perez could provide similar if not better production at a fraction of the price. So far that gamble appears to be paying off. Perez’s numbers compare very favorably to Gomes’ and the club has saved $4,458,334. I’d much rather discuss balls and strikes than nickels and dimes, but sadly the reality of a small market club requires some financial analysis along with the sabermetrics. At the moment, the trade appears to be a net positive for Cleveland, especially when considering the promise that pitcher Jefry Rodriguez and outfield prospect Daniel Johnson has shown. There is plenty of season left and the optics of this deal may change over time, but currently, the team appears to be in good hands with Perez. But what of the future?
At the beginning of the 2017 season, the Indians signed Perez to a team-friendly four-year, $9 million contract. The club owes him $3.6 million in 2020 followed by a $5.5 million team option in 2021 and $7 million team option by 2022. Even his most expensive season will be cheaper than Gomes’ current salary or the $9 million and $11 million team options he holds for 2020 and 2021, respectively. Perez will turn 31 this December. It’s unlikely that at this stage in his career he will start slugging 35 homers a year or hitting .325, but if he can nudge his numbers up to .250 with 25 homers with no significant drop off in defense and pitch framing then Perez can conceivably hang onto the job for a few more years…at least until Bo Naylor arrives.
The Tribe drafted catcher Bo Naylor twenty-ninth overall in last year’s draft. The nineteen-year-old (born in the year 2000!) is currently with the Single-A Lake County Captains where he’s hitting .217/.295/.336 in his first pro season with two homers and 20 RBI. MLB’s Prospect Watch lists him as the number four prospect in the Indians farm system and estimates that he will reach The Show by 2022. If that pace is accurate then an ascendant Naylor could step in as Perez reaches his final year and subsequently take over the catching duties. His profile indicates that he could also thrive as an infielder so don’t count your chickens on him (or, really, any minor leaguer) too soon.
The question I will pose to you is the same one I’ve been asking myself for the past week, “Do you miss Yan Gomes?” For me, the answer is “no,” but it is subject to change as the year goes on. Perez has been found money so far in 2019 and if he can continue to overperform Yan Gomes then the deal will grow more impressive and allow the front office to continue their catching plan of succession. To end on a happier note, I leave you with Perez’s and Gomes’ finest playoff moments. Enjoy.