The Jhonny Peralta question

Jhonny Peralta takes his services to the market tomorrow, who will make the best offer? - Jesse Johnson-US PRESSWIRE

Few available free agents were better than Jhonny Peralta in 2013, but a PED suspension and 1982 on his driver's license make his next contract a big of a question mark. What is he worth and who will take the chance?

If you watched the World Series, you know that finding a high quality shortstop isn't exactly easy. The National League's best team and pennant winner gave 448 plate appearances to a 25 year old Pete Kozma and his 50 wRC+ and 0.0 fWAR. Maybe Pete Kozma isn't that bad, but when you're playing a replacement level player deep into October, it's probably not because you wanted to. The Cardinals, widely considered one of the savviest organizations in baseball, couldn't find a shortstop at anything resembling a reasonable price.

Enter, Jhonny Peralta into the free agent market. He was on his way to his best season in 2013 before he accepted a 50 game suspension for his connection to Biogenesis and will now auction himself off to the highest bidder at some sort of reduced price. The question to answer is how much will his suspension hurt his value, and what team will be willing to take the biggest risk?

Peralta doesn't usually make scouts swoon with his defensive chops, but UZR has really liked him over the last three seasons even if DRS thinks he's a little below average at the position. The key isn't so much that Peralta is good or bad, it's that none of the leading metrics think he's so bad that he couldn't handle the position defensively and let his bat carry him. He also has experience at third base and in the outfield, so a team with an established shortstop could look to convert him to another position.

His glove is good enough, especially considering he usually positions himself quite well and limits the number of mistakes he makes, but his offensive ability will be the thing that solicits phone calls from baseball's general managers. Let's take a look at his last three seasons:

Season G PA HR R RBI SB BB% K% ISO BABIP
2011 146 576 21 68 86 0 6.90% 16.50% 0.179 0.325
2012 150 585 13 58 63 1 8.40% 17.90% 0.145 0.275
2013 107 448 11 50 55 3 7.80% 21.90% 0.154 0.374

Season AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+ fWAR
2011 0.299 0.345 0.478 0.356 122 4.9
2012 0.239 0.305 0.384 0.301 86 2.5
2013 0.303 0.358 0.457 0.356 123 3.6

The great irony of these numbers is the bad season in between the great ones is the season in which Peralta used PEDs. This isn't to say that the PED connection is irrelevant, but it likely means that he isn't going to simply collapse now that he's clean. He had a couple of good seasons prior to 2011, but this stretch at age 29-31 has certainly been the standout. If you're looking at his performance lately, you probably feel good about pegging him for 2-3 wins per season with the ability get about four wins if everything breaks right.

Entering his age 32 season with essentially no injury history, that kind of player is worth somewhere between $12 and $18 million per season depending on how each team evaluates the cost of a win and how much you expect Peralta to be affected by age. One suspects he'll take a hit due to his suspension, but the quality of his apology and the degree to which his team welcomed him back afterwards sends strong signals to the rest of the league. It also doesn't hurt that he hit .333/.353/.545 in 34 postseason plate appearances.

Something like a 3 year, $36 million contract seems reasonable given the scarcity of shortstops and quality free agents in general. Perhaps he'll take a one year deal in order to rebuild his value, but at his age, this is probably his last real chance at a big contract.

A number of teams could have interest in a shortstop with his offensive ability at that price. The Cardinals make plenty of sense, but so could the A's, Mets, and Reds. A variety of teams could also use Peralta a different position or as insurance for their shortstop such as the Yankees, Tigers, Royals, Braves, Dodgers, and Indians. There aren't any perfect fits for Peralta, but there are quite a few teams that will have interest in a player who can handle shortstop and also hit his way onto the field at many different positions. He's not only a good hitter for a shortstop, he's a good hitter period.

A lot of people will focus in on names like Cano, Price, and Tankana this offseason, but one of the most interesting options is Jhonny Peralta. He's coming off a great season but a season that included a PED suspension. He's never been known for his defensive skills, but he's also shown himself to be more than competent and would look even better next to a better third baseman. Peralta debuted very young, so it seems like he's a million years old, but he's actually still reasonable young and could be a nice short term addition to a team looking to surround their core talent with great complimentary pieces.

Rarely does the big signing offer a big return, but buying low on a player coming off a suspension could really help take a fringe team to the next level. Free agency starts at midnight and Peralta's phone will be ringing before too long.

. . .

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.

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