Any day now, the Royals will get starting catcher Salvador Perez back from his rehab assignment at Classs AAA Omaha.
It has been a long wait for the Royals and their fans, who collectively winced when Perez went down to a knee injury in spring training that required surgery.
But Perez, 22, is healthy again and hitting .310 through 10 games at Omaha.
Much of the Royals’ bright future hinges on a healthy Perez, who many baseball observers predict will be a future All-Star.
The future is much more cloudy for catchers Brayan Pena and Humberto Quintero, who have been filling in for Perez during his absence.
Both Pena and Quintero are out of options, meaning they cannot be sent to Omaha without clearing waivers first.
The odds of either one clearing waivers?
“No chance, really,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Well, I shouldn’t say none. There’s always a chance. But it would be extremely unlikely, depending on other teams’ needs.”
Thus, when Perez is activated, the Royals will face a decision on whether to keep Pena or Quintero.
The Royals don’t want to lose either.
“There’s value there in each one of those guys,” Moore said. “They’ve really done a tremendous job for us.
“When Sal went down, we were in a pretty tough spot in terms of catching depth. We made the deal to get Humberto. And along with Brayan, they have held the position together. You don’t want to be in a position to have to lose that value, no matter what position you’re talking about.”
There is a chance the Royals will delay the decision by keeping both Pena and Quintero for some time while they perhaps can orchestrate a deal.
“The first thing you have to establish is that Sal is healthy enough for the long haul,” Moore said. “Just because he gets activated and brought back up here isn’t a guarantee he’s 100 percent healthy for the long haul.
“You want to be patient there and make sure he’s able to handle the load.”
That would suggest the Royals will be willing to carry three catchers for an extended period of time, not necessarily desirable because it likely means the Royals would then have to carry one less pitcher. And for a team that relies so heavily on its bullpen, losing a roster spot for a reliever could be huge.
“But that’s part of the game,” Moore said. “You have to adapt according to the situation. Every team has to go through something like that.”
There’s no secret that the Royals view Quintero, 32, as the better defensive option. While Quintero has come up with some key hits while driving in 19 runs, he is hitting only .230 and has struck out 25 times in just 126 at bats.
Royals manager Ned Yost is a fan of Quintero’s handling of the staff, which likely offsets Quintero’s offensive shortcomings.
But the Royals did not part with a great deal to get Quintero. They gave up left-hander Kevin Chapman and outfielder D’Andre Toney for Quintero and outfielder Jason Bourgeois.
“Actually, we liked the two kids we gave up,” Moore said. “There was value in what we traded.”
Losing Pena, though, would not be a popular move in the Royals’ clubhouse. Pena, 30, is perhaps the most-liked player in the clubhouse, and he is the marginally better offensive option – .257, one homer, 11 RBIs.
Perhaps the biggest factor in the ultimate decision between the two is the Royals’ control of each. Quintero, who is making $1 million in 2011, will be a free-agent after this season. Pena, making $875,000, is under the Royals’ control for one more season.
“That is a consideration,” Moore said. “But right now, we are not going to force our own hand. Our first priority is to make sure that when Sal gets here, he is healthy enough to carry the workload. And then at the appropriate time, we will make a decision on the (backup) situation.