SURPRISE, Ariz. – New Royals catcher Martin Maldonado arrived in camp on Monday vowing he would be ready by the March 28 Opening Day game against the White Sox at Kauffman Stadium.
Maldonado’s one-year deal, with a base salary of $2.5 million and $1.4 million of potential performance bonuses, was made official earlier in the day.
“There’s time,” manager Ned Yost said of getting Maldonado ready. “On one hand you don’t want to rush him, but there has to be a little bit of that to get him ready.”
Maldonado, 32, said he has been working out regularly at his home in Puerto Rico.
“I’ll be ready,” he said. “It won’t take me that long [to get to know the staff]. I’ll be able to catch some bullpens and see them perform. The learning side, I can do that by talking to them in the clubhouse, too.”
Maldonado will have big shoes to fill taking over for six-time All-Star Salvador Perez, who underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery last week. Perez was moved to the 60-day injured list to make room for Maldonado.
Getting Maldonado was almost vital, Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. The Royals now can move Cam Gallagher back into a backup role, and let Meibrys Viloria, 22, continue his everyday development at Triple-A Omaha.
“Any time you lose a player like Salvy, it’s hard to overcome,” Moore said. “But we’re excited with the way Cam Gallagher and Meibrys Viloria have stepped up. They give us a lot of hope and a lot of depth. Both have a chance to be frontline Major League catchers.
“But at the end of the day we felt we needed more depth with a guy like Martin Maldonado, who is one of the elite catch-and-throw guys in the league. We think his power still has some potential as well. His power numbers increased in the second half last year. We like that. We really like the fact he can shut down a running game and give our pitchers a lot of confidence.”
Moore also hinted that Viloria’s time in the Minor Leagues could be short-lived.
“If he goes down to the Minor Leagues and continues to swing the bat, he’ll force our hand,” Moore said. “One of the things about losing Salvy is losing that bat in the middle of our lineup. He won two straight Silver Slugger awards. He’s somebody who can hit with power and be a presence in the middle of our lineup, so we’re going to be constantly looking to improve our offense as well. Viloria is an offensive-minded catcher and there’s no reason he can’t force our hand.”
That won’t happen anytime soon, though.
“We began the season with the mindset that Cam Gallagher would be our backup to Salvy,” Moore said. “That has not changed.”
Maldonado, who beat out Perez for the American League Gold Glove Award in 2017, split time between the Astros and the Angels last season, with Houston acquiring him right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Maldonado hit .225/.276/.351 with 18 doubles, nine home runs and 44 RBIs overall last season. But it’s his defense that attracted the Royals.
“Defense is the key for me,” Maldonado said. “It’s what I do best. It’s my ‘A’ game.”
Yet even with his elite defense, Maldonado could not secure a Major League deal this offseason until after the Perez injury. And that was tough on Maldonado.
“It was difficult,” he said. “It’s kind of hard when you know you want a job. My wife, she helped me with my patience.”
And once Maldonado heard about the Perez injury, he began to connect the dots.
“I thought it was a possibility, even though they have two guys, they are young,” Maldonado said. “I thought it would be a chance to come here.”
Maldonado switched representation from Scott Boras to MVP Sports Group in the middle of negotiations with the Royals, though Moore said the offer stayed the same.
“We had reached our breaking point with what we [could offer],” Moore said. “The deal didn’t change because it could not change.”