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Cardinals Overpaid For SS Peralta

The Cardinals yesterday announced the signing of free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta, a move made to fill a glaring hole in the Redbirds’ offense. Peralta is coming off a season in which he hit .303/.358/.457 with 11 HR and 55 RBI–his best production since 2011. Peralta looked comfortable at the plate, drove the ball to the opposite way, and had a knack for timely hits last season. However, his numbers in 2013 would have been more impressive had he not been suspended 50 games by MLB for his role in the Biogenesis scandal.

While many MLB fans are up in arms about rewarding an admitted steroid user with a hefty contract (plenty of merit to that grievance), I’m more upset at the contract itself; over the next four years, the 31-year-0ld Peralta will make $52M.

Before I begin with my criticism, I will point out that Peralta is a SIGNIFICANT upgrade in the lineup IF he can produce like he has in two of his last three seasons. His defensive metrics aren’t spectacular (certainly not like Pete Kozma), but you can leave him in late in the game without cringing. In short, John Mozeliak and the Cardinals’ front office chose to sacrifice some defense for what could be a lot more offense. Plus, Peralta will likely be hitting sixth or seventh in the Cards’ 2014 lineup, which is where he looked most comfortable in Detroit.

In addition, signing the free agent Peralta means that the Cardinals do not have to give up a draft pick to Detroit (since the Tigers did not make a qualifying offer to Peralta), and none of the Cardinals’ star prospects will be traded (yet???).

Okay, that’s out of the way. Although the Cardinals’ offense will get a nice boost from the Peralta signing, the money and length of the deal are far too great for a streaky player like Peralta. Entire seasons seem to be boom or bust for him–looking at his batting averages, he has had two consecutive seasons of a batting average over .270 just once (2007-2008). When he is on, Peralta will hit in the neighborhood of .290-.300, put together an OBP of .340-.360, hit around 20 home runs, and drive in 80+ RBI. During his “bust” seasons, Peralta struggles to hit .250, hovers around a .300-.330 OBP, strikes out at a higher percentage, and hits 10-15 HR.

Combine those numbers with the fact that Peralta is now on the wrong side of 30, and his production is unlikely to reach that “boom” level for much longer, if at all.

Defensively, Peralta’s age means that his range will likely take a dive as well. Like I said, he has always been a solid shortstop, and has been good about avoiding errors (only 21 in 3.5 seasons in Detroit), but he has only worked well with the balls that he could reach. Peralta’s legs have never been particularly agile, and as he gets more and more into his 30s, his range on the infield will suffer.

This is exactly why I have trouble justifying paying this guy $52M over four seasons–he’s over 30, at the end of his prime, weakening defensively, and has a do-or-die bat for what seems like entire seasons. I understand that Mozeliak couldn’t get his young, controllable shortstop once Texas and Detroit swapped Ian Kinsler and Prince Fielder, but that didn’t have to stop Mo from still trying to accomplish that goal.

Mozeliak said after the signing that “Two [years] would have made a lot more sense, but that wasn’t possible.” Maybe it wasn’t possible in November, and maybe no trades were in the works in November, but with more than three months left in the offseason–including the Winter Meetings in early December–I really feel that Mo could have waited to pull the trigger on this one.

Let’s just hope this doesn’t become one of those deals that has Cardinals fans counting down the days until Peralta leaves following the 2017 season. He has the potential to be a huge producer in the Cardinals’ lineup, but to really earn his contract, Peralta will have to put together four solid, consistent offensive seasons instead of the back-and-forth that we’ve seen from him the past six years.

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