Jhonny Peralta signing questionable for St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals continued their busy offseason by signing former Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year deal worth $52 million.  The Cardinals were certainly in the market for a shortstop, but this signing seems desperate and also a deviation from the Cards’ general philosophy.

The Cardinals, no doubt, had the financial means to sign a player for $52 million, but it is somewhat surprising that they choose to do so on a 31-year old who has never driven in 100 runs in a season nor ever won a gold glove for his defense.  According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peralta’s contract is the largest total dollar amount that the club has ever given to a free agent who was not previously a member of the team.  Peralta is a decent player who has been on his share of playoff ballclubs, but his play has never been so outstanding that it should merit that distinction from a franchise like the Cardinals.

Jhonny Peralta

Jhonny Peralta

The list of everyday shortstops on the free agent market was brief, so the Cardinals no doubt kicked the tires with other teams looking to trade for a shortstop.  But the other clubs, knowing that the Cards were set on a making an upgrade at the position, and also knowing the large stable of young arms that the Cardinals have, were probably looking to ransack the Cardinals’ assets.

Enticing to the Cardinals was the fact that the Tigers had not given Peralta a qualifying offer, so the Cards will not have to give up a draft pick upon signing him.  But, perhaps the Tigers chose not to do so because of Peralta’s connection with the Biogenesis clinic which earned him a 50 game suspension this past year for violating Major League Baseball’s performance enhancing drug policy.

Peralta’s numbers with that presumed advantage were not exactly eye-popping.  Over the past three seasons, Peralta has averaged 15 home runs and 68 RBIs with a .438 slugging percentage per baseball-reference.com.  For comparison, those numbers are similar to former Cardinal David Freese’s numbers over the same span.

But the Cardinals surely did extensive background and research regarding Peralta and feel certain that he will not be linked to drug use again, and yet that should be very frightening for the Cards.  Peralta will be 32 in May with his prime in the past.  If Peralta halts his use of anti-aging enhancers, it is then only reasonable to expect his production to go significantly down.  If a drop off does not happen this year, it will surely occur during the life of his four year deal.

Everyone deserves a second chance, but by the same token if Peralta is caught again he will be suspended for 100 games as a second time offender and the only people that would look more foolish than Peralta then would be the Cardinals.

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Peralta will undoubtedly be an upgrade offensively at shortstop, at least for the first couple of years of the contract.  But his defense, especially his range, is limited.  There is a supposed added value to Peralta because he could eventually move to third base or the outfield, but it is very doubtful that he would ever be an everyday player for the Cards in either of those spots.  If his age ever limits his defensive ability to the point where he cannot play shortstop every day, Peralta’s underwhelming offensive numbers will no longer be so valuable and his contract will become absurd at that point.  His contract would then become the kind of insufferable contract the Cardinals have made a habit of avoiding.

Nevertheless, Jhonny Peralta may have represented the Cardinals’ best chance to get better at shortstop in the near future.  Peralta bats from the right side, and the club is probably hoping he can help with production against left-handed pitching, something the team has struggled with in recent years, especially considering they recently traded away one their best hitters against lefties in Freese.  Cardinal general manager John Mozeliak has an amazing track record, but this move seems unusual for him.  Even if it helps the Cardinals for this upcoming season, it will be interesting to see if the deal is considered a good value when it reaches its final year and Peralta is 35.

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