Trio of Royals receive honors for '20 season

January 30th, 2021

A bounce-back year in 2020 netted Salvador Perez his third career Silver Slugger Award, an All-MLB First Team selection and the American League Comeback Player of the Year Award. On Friday, Perez added to the list, headlining the Royals' team awards for '20.

Perez was named the Les Milgram Player of the Year as part of the Royals' annual awards, voted on by the Kansas City chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Right-hander Brad Keller won the Bruce Rice Pitcher of the Year Award, while outfielder Alex Gordon received the Joe Burke Special Achievement Award after closing out his 14-year career with his second Platinum Glove honor and his franchise-record-tying eighth Gold Glove Award.

“When you’re working hard, you expect to win awards,” Perez said with a grin. “It made me feel good. At the end of the day, I said, 'I got my job done.'”

Perez missed all of 2019 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he missed the beginning of Summer Camp in '20 after testing positive for COVID-19. Then, he missed three weeks of the season because of a lingering eye issue that caused blurred vision. Despite all that, he hit 11 home runs and 12 doubles, drove in 32 runs and posted a .986 OPS in 37 games.

Perez was adamant he’s “100 percent healthy” entering 2021, and he hopes the season can be played in full. And that’s all he’s focusing on, despite it being the final year of his contract. The 30-year-old said that he hasn’t had any discussions with the Royals about an extension, but he’s open to that conversation. With the young pitching rising in the ranks, it makes sense for Kansas City to retain its veteran catcher.

“I got one more year with Kansas City, and we’ll see what’s going to happen after the season,” Perez said. “The team signed me when I was 16 years old. The way I’m still there makes me happy. Hopefully, I can retire in Kansas City, but you never know.”

Keller had a late start to the season because of a positive COVID-19 test during Summer Camp, but he returned to lead the Royals with five wins in his nine starts, posting a 2.47 ERA that ranked fifth in the AL. The 25-year-old ace has focused this offseason on repeating the delivery he found in 2020, hoping for the consistency to carry over to '21.

“Just to come back out and have fun and feel a normalcy again, being back on the field with the guys, that was the most important part,” Keller said. “In a year that everything felt abnormal, to actually go out there and play, and for once feel like we’re back to doing what we love to do. I think that was the best part of last year. Obviously, everyone had their struggles, not only on the field, but off the field, so to find that normalcy for those four hours on the field was great.”

Both Perez and Keller have their eyes set on 2021 with Spring Training coming up. After seeing the moves the Royals have made this offseason -- including signing first baseman Carlos Santana and starter Mike Minor each to a two-year deal -- Perez and Keller both emphasized that Kansas City is better positioned to contend this year than it has been the past few seasons.

“I was talking with Whit [Merrifield] yesterday, and we were going down the order of what our lineup’s going to be this year, and it’s just like -- it’s hard not to smile and get excited about it, because we’ve got some guys now,” Keller said. “We had a great team last year, and we added some more pieces.

“I feel like we’re right in the thick of this thing. The White Sox have improved as well, and ultimately, so have we. We’ll carry that momentum going into this year. Our goal is to be in the playoffs and win a World Series. With the guys that we’ve gotten, and the veteran presence that we have in our clubhouse now, that goal is a lot closer than we thought a few years ago. I’m really excited about getting the season going.”