Three weeks ago, I wrote that Jhonny Perlata's free agency was going to be tremendously interesting due to his excellent 2013, his PED suspension, his age and the market at his position. At the time, I suggested the Cardinals as a strong match and that a potential deal would be worth something like $36 million over three seasons. The landing place and salary were just about right, but Peralta squeezed an extra year out the Cardinals along the way.
The deal is reported to be worth $53 million over four seasons, meaning that Peralta will receive an average of $13.25 million per season to man the shortstop position for the Cardinals. With the cost of a win somewhere between $5 million and $7 million on the free agent market, the Cardinals are going to ask Peralta to provide somewhere between two and three wins a year for the next four or something like eight to 11 wins total.
Despite struggling in 2012 at the plate and missing 50 games in 2013, Peralta has been worth more than 3.5 fWAR per season over his last three years. Entering his age-32 season, you'd expect Peralta to come down from that as the contract wears on -- but Peralta's bat has improved over the last few seasons as he's learned to hit the ball more effectively to all fields.
Steamer projects him for only 97 games in 2014, but that's likely because Steamer thinks his suspension was an injury. If you extend the projection out to 150 games, he's expected to be worth close to three wins despite Steamer anticipating very heavy offensive regression. Peralta has been an up-and-down hitter throughout his career, but he's a shortstop with a career 102 wRC+ and no injury history. Since becoming a regular in 2005, Peralta had never played fewer than 141 games until the 2013 suspension.
The Cardinals are banking on no ill effects from the PED suspension, which is a solid bet to make considering the usage was during 2012 and 2013. Projecting Peralta's bat is a little tricky, but he's a massive upgrade over Pete Kozma at the dish and will help the Cardinals tremendously against left-handed pitchers, against whom they struggled in 2013.
Peralta's defense has been a point of contention for quite a while and many are suspect of his ability to stay at short for the Cardinals over the next four seasons. While Peralta's body type and foot speed don't scream shortstop, we're talking about a player with excellent UZR numbers over the last three seasons and DRS numbers right around average over the same time period. Covering the Tigers on a daily basis, I can attest that while Peralta doesn't look like a shortstop, he's effective enough to handle the position -- especially considering he won't be playing next to Miguel Cabrera anymore.
Peralta benefits from good positioning and good routes to difficult balls which offsets his first baseman-like foot speed. In fact, one could argue that Peralta excels at the aspects of defense that should atrophy less quickly than others. And even if he can't stay at short in year four, Peralta has plenty of places to move on the defensive spectrum, be it third base, first base, or a corner outfield spot.
I'm a little surprised that Peralta got four years, but he's a player who can handle shortstop with the potential to hit 20% better than league average. Over the last three seasons, a shortstop has had 400 or more PA 76 times. Of those 76, only eight seasons have seen a 120 wRC+ or better. Two of those seasons came from Jhonny Peralta.
There are questions about the message this kind of contract sends to players considering PED use, but if one strips aside the morality issue, a four-year, $53 million contract to a 32-year-old who can still play shortstop and hit like Peralta doesn't seem crazy at all. There are many who can't seem to detach their preconceptions about what a shortstop ought to look like from the reality that Peralta has effectively defended that position for the better part of the last three seasons.
The Cardinals came into the offseason needing to upgrade at shortstop and even if they risked a little bit too much money on the back end of this deal, they attained a massive upgrade that didn't cost them a draft pick. The team that loses here isn't going to be the Cardinals, it's going to be the Tigers for not extending Peralta a Qualifying Offer.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Neil Weinberg is a writer and editor at Beyond The Box Score, contributor to Gammons Daily, and can also be found writing enthusiastically about the Detroit Tigers at New English D. You can follow and interact with him on Twitter at @NeilWeinberg44.