Kansas City Royals fans are excited that the return of stud catcher Salvy Perez to the Royals lineup is imminent. This creates a potential problem on the roster because they traded for Humberto Quintero when Perez got hurt in Spring Training, giving up a legitimate pitching prospect to do so. No good MLB roster is constructed with 3 players who can only catch or DH, so the optimistic assumption is that somebody has to go. So should the Royals keep Brayan Pena or Quintero? This is a really close call and an argument could be made for/against either.
PRO: 30 year-old switch hitter with a reputation as a guy handle the bat off the bench. In reality his career .AVG/.OBP/.SLG is .251/.290/.357. At .269, Pena’s BABIP is a little low over 850 at-bats. He has 13 career HRs and 44 2Bs in limited action-never appearing in more than 72 games in his 8 MLB seasons. Pena also has a reputation as a very positive guy who brings energy to the team clubhouse and enthusiasm for baseball. His biggest asset is that he is perceived as a decent hitter from both sides of the plate. His second biggest asset is that he is a former Atlanta Brave, from GM Dayton Moore’s time with the team before coming to KC.
CON: Reputation for being below average behind the plate. Despite his reputation as a “guy who can handle the bat,” his offensive numbers do not even come close to justifying his performance behind the plate. Pena has come up with some nice hits late in the game a few times over the past couple of years but he is a career .258 hitter as a LH batter and a career .238 hitter as a RH batter with at least 75% of his power (extra base hits) coming as a LH batter. His .OBP is about the same: he gets on base at about the same clip from either side of the plate (.295 LH; .285 RH). With men on base Pena has only a career .244 average and with men in scoring position it is only .248. His .OBP/.SLG in those situations? .279/.341 with men on; .283/.371 with men in scoring position-which is nothing impressive.
PRO: 32 year-old RH hitter with a reputation for being a defense-first catcher who is a good catch/throw guy. Veteran in his 10th MLB season, mostly as a backup who has never appeared in more than 88 games in a season. Was acquired, along with Jason Bourgeois, from the Houston Astros in an emergency Spring Training after Perez was injured.
CON: In short, overexposure. Previously a backup, Quintero has not lived up to the billing defensively while getting the majority of the playing time in KC so far this season. Fans who follow closely can remember passed balls, errant throws, and throws from his knees that are ineffective as plays that have cost the Royals games in 2012 (some of which were key plays during the 12-game losing streak early this season). Quintero’s career batting line is .234/.266.323 with 16 career HR.
So which player do you want if you’re the Royals? A switch hitter who “handles the bat” but doesn’t have average offensive numbers and is below average on defense or a “catch and throw” guy who isn’t really living up to that reputation who can’t hit a lick? Maybe the best way to find that answer is to look at Sal Perez. I say that because you don’t want a huge hole in your lineup when Sal is given a day off or in the event Sal is injured again. The accepted thinking in MLB is that you want your catcher to be solid behind the plate first and if he hits anything that is a bonus. That points to Quintero, but some might argue that Pena has improved enough behind the plate to be passable on the days Sal is not in the lineup.
Where does that leave you? What else should be considered? Both Pena and Quintero are established veterans with no options for the minor leagues on their contracts. So whomever the Royals do not choose is at risk to be lost to another team. I don’t see another team being interested in Quintero based on 2012. The only way a team is going to claim Quintero on waivers is if they (like the Royals in March) are in a bind due to injuries OR have some type of faith that Quintero catching once a week will return to his previous defensive reputation. One must also consider that the Royals organization probably does not want to trade a legitimate pitching prospect away for a guy they end up waiving, so that favors Quintero as well (see, Jonathan Sanchez-who should already be gone from this roster).
There is one last BIG wild card in this that was mentioned above: Pena is a former Brave and Moore LOVES his former Braves. I see this being a bigger factor, combined with his intangibles off the field, that tip the scales in favor of Pena. I have no problem with that. This team is in damaged goods without Sal either way so we are not facing a situation where the Royals are going to make a playoff run with either one of these guys starting 120+ games behind the plate. I don’t see a reason to get bent out of shape about whichever they choose to do. The only reason to get bent out of shape is if the Royals elect to go with 3 catchers for the remainder of the season.
My preference? Keep 3 catchers until the All Star Break and try to work out a trade for one of these two guys. If you can’t swing a deal, send Quintero to the waiver wire and see if you can sneak him down to AAA Omaha. If you lose him, Manny Pina will likely be back from his own knee injury if Sal suffers another injury after the All Star Break.