Salvador Perez, a relative unknown, just agreed to a five-year contract extension with the Kansas City Royals. The deal will pay him $7M over five guaranteed years (basically, through his first two arbitration-eligible years), and the Royals also have club options for the following three years (2017 through 2019). Despite the fact that he might not be well-known, this is an excellent move by a team rebuilding toward a bright future.
There's a lot of reasons to like Salvador Perez, but one reason in particular stands out: he's 21 years old, and he won't turn 22 until May. At such a young age, he's already had success in the big leagues. Perez made his major-league debut this past season, and he was quite impressive, hitting .331/.361/.473 across 158 plate appearances. He doesn't walk a lot, sure, but he also doesn't strike out all that much. His production, overall, was good for a 128 OPS+, which is a rare feat for a 21-year-old catcher. Yes, these numbers should be taken for what they're worth, with the usual small sample size caveats; it's likely that Perez will regress -- a lot, in fact -- but he'd still be a good everyday option behind the plate. Keep in mind, the average major-league catcher posted a 91 wRC+ in 2011; Perez posted a 127 wRC+.
It's not as though this was just 39 games of luck. No, a 127 wRC+ most probably isn't his true talent level, but this is the same guy that, earlier in the year, hit .290/.331/.437 across 358 plate appearances in the upper levels of the minors. Even ZiPS, which is relatively low on Perez, projects a .303 wOBA in 580 plate appearances in 2012. Ignoring defense, that's average production from a catcher, and that'll only get better with age. Fangraphs' FAN projections, which are slightly more optimistic, have Perez posting a .314 wOBA in 511 plate appearances, which -- ignoring defense -- is worth 2.7 WAR. At age 22, in his first full season, he already is capable of above-average production.
Interestingly enough, the club options will conceivably coincide with his peak years. If he maxes out all of his incentives, Perez will earn just $26.75M over the next eight years. That means, at the most, the club options could pay him roughly $7M per year. In other words, during what will presumably be his prime, he will get paid like he's worth slightly more than one win above replacement per season.
This is all, of course, ignoring other factors of Perez's value -- specifically defense and baserunning. Perez, in fact, has a reputation as a good defensive catcher. Baseball America, in their 2011 Prospect Handbook, had this to say about Perez's defense: "Perez has slightly above-average arm strength and threw out 42 percent of basestealers in 2010. He does a good job of framing pitches, handling velocity, and calling a game." This, unfortunately, is somewhat negated by his shortcomings on the basepaths. Perez is dreadfully slow, and will inevitably cost a team several runs a year with his legs.
Given his age and performance to date, Perez has the potential to develop into an above-average hitter at the plate, and certainly an above-average hitting catcher. Additionally, his solid defense behind the plate makes him an asset. Given the injury risk that comes with the job title, there's some risk here. But at a guaranteed $7M, it's not a lot of risk. If Perez does grow into the kind of catcher that excels both at and behind the plate, the Royals could have a bargain on their hands, especially during the club option years. This is, by all means, a brilliant extension for Kansas City.