Cam Gallagher plays one of the most grueling positions in sports, certainly the toughest on a baseball diamond, as catcher.
He showed a glimpse of that toughness earlier this season when he tried to work his way through a strained hamstring, circling the bases and squatting behind the plate for every pitch.
Gallagher’s toughness is not an issue. That’s why it’s so shocking that being traded to the Kansas City Royals and leaving the only professional baseball organization ever known left him in tears Tuesday night in the tunnel behind the visiting club at Guaranteed Rate Field.
In the final hours of the trade deadline, the Royals completed a trade that sent Gallagher to the San Diego Padres in exchange for outfielder Brent Rooker.
The 3-foot-3, 230-pound Gallagher said he had gone to the clubhouse to say goodbye to teammate Whit Merrifield after learning Merrifield had been traded. Then Royals manager Mike Matheny pulled him aside.
“I’m neighbors with some of these guys in the offseason,” Gallagher said. “You know, it is what it is. I wish these guys nothing but the best, lots of good friends in there.
“I’m close with a lot of these guys, coaches, front office. But it’s a business. I look forward to this new opportunity. It’s good at the end of the day. You just have to take it and run with it.”
Gallagher, 29, made his major league debut in August 2017 after being a second-round draft pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.
In 171 career games, he’s slashed .240/.302/.355 with seven home runs. He took over as the primary backup to Salvador Perez at the end of the 2018 season when the Royals traded for Drew Butera.
Gallagher consistently rated well as a fielder and drew rave reviews from the pitching staff for his game plan knowledge and ability.
Gallagher now joins a Padres catching corps that includes Jorge Alfaro and Austin Nola. Gallagher said he received a phone call from Padres general manager AJ Preller after the trade.
“They want to win a championship,” Gallagher said. “I’ve been here for a long time. It had its ups and downs. They are my brothers in there, this club. But at the end of the day, I want to win. So whatever I have to do, I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Rooker, 27, slashed .272/.385/.605 with 19 home runs, 55 RBIs, 19 doubles and 5 stolen bases in 61 games for Triple-A El Paso. He will report to Triple-A Omaha.
“Cam has always had value in this industry,” Royals general manager JJ Picollo said. “Whether it was last deadline, or this offseason, or this deadline, Cam is a very, very good receiver. His numbers show it. Teams appreciate it quite a bit. So we always knew there was a chance we could move Cam. As we talked about Brent, we were able to provide something that our organization needs.”
The Royals believe Rooker’s “big power” as a right-handed hitter fills a need for the Royals with so many of their top young hitters being left-handed, including MJ Melendez, Vinnie Pasquantino, Nick Pratto and Michael Massey.
Gallagher’s playing time was limited when both Perez and Melendez were healthy as they dominated the catching duties.
But Gallagher also provided safety, as Melendez often plays the outfield at another position or serves as the designated hitter if he doesn’t catch. With their only two catchers in the lineup at the same time, it could have left the Royals vulnerable if they had to exit the game.
MLB roster rules requiring 13 position players made it more practical for them to carry three catchers. Picollo said they were still considering whether to add a catcher to the roster to replace Gallagher. They would likely announce the roster moves Wednesday morning before their afternoon game against the Chicago White Sox.