Posted November 24, 2013

Here’s Jhonny: Cardinals shore up glaring weakness by signing Jhonny Peralta

Free agency, Jhonny Peralta, St. Louis Cardinals
Jhonny Peralta should fill a void that hurt the Cardinals throughout last season. (Scott W. Grau/Icon SMI)

Jhonny Peralta should fill a void that hurt the Cardinals throughout last season. (Scott W. Grau/Icon SMI)

The reshuffling of the Cardinals’ infield continues. Two days after trading third baseman David Freese to the Angels to clear a spot for second base prospect Kolten Wong, they’ve added shortstop Jhonny Peralta via a four-year, $53 million deal, pending a physical. The move shores up the defending National League champions’ most glaring weakness and represents their largest free-agent commitment in four years. Notably, it won’t cost the team a first-round draft pick, since the Tigers didn’t make Peralta a qualifying offer, and it’s significantly less money than Peralta was said to be seeking.

The Cardinals came into 2013 hoping that Rafael Furcal had sufficiently recovered from a strained ulnar collateral ligament to resume regular shortstop duty, but he suffered a setback early in spring training and underwent Tommy John surgery in early March, costing him the entire season. The team forged ahead using light-hitting Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso, the tandem who had covered for Furcal’s absence in late 2012 by augmenting their solid defense with surprisingly clutch hitting in the postseason.

Alas, with Kozma taking about two-thirds of the playing time and Descalso the remainder, they received just replacement level production from the spot in 2013. Cardinals shortstops combined to hit .222/.280/.303 for the league’s third-lowest OPS from that slot, and whether you use Defensive Runs Saved or Ultimate Zone Rating, Kozma’s strong glovework was more or less cancelled out by Descalso’s shakiness, and the pair combined for 1.0 Wins Above Replacement. As booming as their farm system is, it lacks a compelling alternative at the position, with glove-first Triple-A shortstop Ryan Jackson recently lost on waivers to the Astros as the team set its 40-man roster for the upcoming Rule 5 draft.

The 31-year-old Peralta (32 on May 28) represents a substantial upgrade on the offensive side. He earned All-Star honors for the second time in his career in 2013, hitting .303/.358/.457 with 11 homers for the Tigers, though his season was interrupted by a 50-game suspension for his connections to the Biogenesis clinic. Replaced in the lineup by slick-fielding Jose Iglesias, Peralta returned in time for the postseason, and hit .333/.353/.545 in 34 plate appearances split between shortstop and leftfield, a position in which he received a crash course just prior to returning.

While Peralta has been a durable player over the years, averaging 149 games a year from 2005-2012 without making a single trip to the disabled list in that span, his performance has varied widely from year to year. In his nine full seasons, he’s had four with an OPS+ of 113 or higher, including two of the last three (119 in 2013, 122 in 2011), but also three of 85 or lower, and five swings of at least 25 percent from year to year relative to the league. In all, he’s a career .268/.330/.425 hitter, with a 101 OPS+.

Peralta’s defense has been surprisingly average as well. If that statement sounds odd, consider that he rarely makes a strong positive impression visually, often displaying a lack of athleticism and limited range yet grading out respectably across defensive metrics thanks to a combination of good reaction time and good positioning. Here’s a look at his numbers across various systems from 2011-2013, a period that began with him moving back to shortstop full-time after spending most of 2009 and 2010 at third base:

Year DRS UZR RED DRA TZ FRAA avg
2011 2 10 5 10 2 6
2012 -1 12 -18 3 -6 -2
2013 0 4 5 12 -2 8 4
Total 1 25 5 -2 11 4

Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating are both derived via batted ball type data, as are Fielding Runs Above Average and Runs Effectively Defended, an unpublished system created by defensive stats pioneer Chris Dial and used as part of the sabermetric quotient in the Gold Glove voting. Total Zone and Defensive Regression analysis, both also incorporated into the voting, are based upon play-by-play data. Since not all of the systems use decimals, I’ve rounded the numbers off for display purposes. As you can see, the measurements vary widely from year to year and metric to metric, but in all, he comes out around three runs above average per year.

That’s important when projecting Peralta going forward, for it suggests that he can remain at shortstop for at least the next few years — a good thing, given a roster where third baseman Matt Carpenter is under club control through 2017, and leftfielder Matt Holliday is signed through 2016. I hadn’t gotten a chance to devote a post to Peralta in my What is he really worth? series, which attempts to grapple with the astronomical price tags attached to this winter’s top free agents using a simple model that incorporates a player’s past performance, a projection of future performance, the market cost of a marginal win, inflation and aging. Running him through a shorter version of that exercise here, this is what we might expect:

Year  Age  WAR  Market $/W Prod $
2013 31 4.1 6.00 24.6
2014 32 3.1 6.30 19.3
2015 33 2.7 6.62 17.6
2016 34 2.3 6.95 15.7
2017 35 1.9 7.29 13.6

Before projecting Peralta’s 2014 work using a weighted 5/4/3 formula (where his 2013 counts five times, his 2012 four times, and his 2011 three times, with the whole thing divided by 12 — 5 + 4 + 3), I’ve adjusted his actual 3.3 WAR for 2013 upwards to account for the time he lost due to his suspension. Simply prorating it over 162 games would yield 4.8, his highest since 2005 by a full win; I’ve split the distance between that and his actual WAR, using 4.1 as his 2013 figure — still his best season of the past eight by 0.3 wins. That bumps his weighted projection for 2014 from 2.7 WAR to 3.1, after which I’m projecting him to decline by 0.4 WAR per year. Note that by using his DRS via the Baseball-Reference.com version of WAR,I’m also building a slight additional hit into the model, since in the aggregate, the other systems view him slightly more favorably.

Instead of using Russell Carleton’s estimate of $5.276 million per win as a starting point, I’m going with $6.0 million per win given that the Cardinals are perennial contenders whose every extra win can have a great impact on their chances of reaching the playoffs. Given those assumptions, the market value of Peralta’s performance (WAR times dollars per win, as represented by the rightmost column) projects to be worth $66.1 million over the next four years; if I had instead maintained that $5.276 million figure, the value would still be $58.1 million. Tweaking the model further, if I instead keep $6 million per win but project him to decline by 0.5 wins per year, the value is $61.9 million; if I accelerate his decline to 0.7 WAR per year, the value is $53.4 million — still a hair more than his actual contract.

All of that suggests that while Peralta’s deal represents a substantial addition to St. Louis’ payroll — he’ll be the fourth highest-paid player behind Adam Wainwright, Holliday and Yadier Molina — this is a very reasonable deal. It’s the most the Cardinals have committed to a free agent since signing Holliday to a seven-year, $120 million deal in January 2010, but still less than the $15 million per year Peralta was rumored to be seeking, and might have gotten from a more desperate team. Additionally, it doesn’t cost them a boatload of club-controlled talent, as a trade for Troy Tulowitzki or Elvis Andrus — both of which the team explored earlier this month, and both of which come with more substantial long-term contracts attached — would have.

The one other factor of note is that Peralta’s deal sets a new bar for players who have been punished for performance-enhancing drug use, going well beyond the two-year, $16 million deal Melky Cabrera received last winter and the three-year, $26 million deal Carlos Ruiz signed earlier this month. Obviously, players such as Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and Manny Ramirez have had higher salaries at the time of their suspensions, but none signed a big new deal after bering disciplined. Peralta’s pact suggests that teams are far less concerned by players’ drug histories than fans, media or even other major league players are. Note the Twitter-based reaction of Diamondbacks reliever and player representative Brad Ziegler to the deal:

Peralta won’t be the only recently suspended player to cash in this winter. Nelson Cruz, who was also  suspended for his Biogenesis involvement, should come away with a substantial multiyear deal, and Bartolo Colon, who served a 50-game suspension in late 2012 and early 2013, is likely to fare far better than the $3 million deal he signed last winter after another strong season. All of which is something to consider as Major League Baseball continues to pursue a lengthy suspension of Rodriguez and mull longer suspensions of future users.

38 comments
TylerSechrest
TylerSechrest

Ok all of you understand there's a lot more that goes on in baseball than any of us hear about. None of us know the talks that players and gms have. Theres a lot that goes on behind closed doors. The cardinals needed a short stop and they signed peralta for less than he was asking for. That's negotiations. They got a good bat which is what they needed. The organization knows what they are doing they have more world series wins than any NL team. Peralta is a good filler until the minor league guys are ready to come up.

jacklaforge
jacklaforge

Peralta didn't get rewarded because of PED use.  some people literally hear and see what they want to see and thats the end of the story.  Peralta got paid because the market demanded he got paid.  Its that simple. If the Cardinals weren't desperately in need of a shortstop, or if there were 10 high profiles SS on the market, then Peralta wouldn't have got near that much.  It's really that simple.  This wasn't a bad deal, it wasn't a disgrace to the game, it fit right in the wheelhouse of the penalty then free market system.  Its called supply and demand.  If there is lots of demand and very little supply, the price goes up.  Baseball is no different.  HE DID NOT GET REWARDED FOR HIS PED USE.  People will always see what they want to see.

AlainLapointe
AlainLapointe

Now if they replace the light hitting Jay by anybody they could easily go back to the World Series

x72
x72

Cards showing the world what a classless franchise they are. Terrible move.

TommyTG
TommyTG

Bum deal. Bad for baseball and bad for the fans.

djfarkus
djfarkus

Dear Brad Ziegler:  Stuff your hypocrisy

YOUR union put this process in place.
YOUR union demanded that players be allowed to continue their MLB careers after serving suspensions.
YOUR union prevents contracts from being voided for PED usage.
YOUR union would be first in line to sue MLB if suspended players were blackballed or excluded from the league.

Last I checked, Brad, you are still a member of the Players Union. That mean YOU are just as much a part of the Peralta contract as any owner or GM.

When your union allows owners to void contracts for PED usage, and supports lifetime bans for PED users, then you will no longer be a giant hypocrite.

oasis1994
oasis1994

I expected more from this team.

This also goes to show you; it doesn't matter if you use steroids, you will get signed.

WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

Stupid money and stupid deal from an organization that has been built on not signing players to dumb deals. The worst aspect for a team like the Cardinals is the effect this sort  of largess will have on their young players.

John4
John4

He can't even SPELL Johnny, and he gets millions?  Anyway, no way in the world, that Johnny begins with JH.  Not even close.  

DanaBunner
DanaBunner

I understand the average WAR over the past 3 years being 3.1.  However, he's only had two seasons with a WAR > 2.7 over the past 5 years.  Thus I feel there is a very high possibility that his WAR over the next 4 years, as he plays out his age 32-35 seasons, is likely to be under the 10.0 projected above.  If that number is closer to 8, and setting $/W at $5.5 to start with a 5% inflation, yield an contract value of about $48M.  Which is pretty darn close to what he got.  So can't argue much with Cardinals ... UNLESS ... his stats fall off dramatically due to lack of PED usage.

TomMaddocks
TomMaddocks

I'm a life long Tigers fan  JP, until the PED's, was a pretty good guy, great in the club house.  His bat will be missed a little, not that much. His fielding was decent but very little range. Way too many grounder's got through that shouldn't have. So they are getting a decent hitter with very limited range. Personally, i think they way overpaid.

William27
William27

evidently PED suspensions are meaningless as several of the people suspended are getting massive contracts.

far more than honest people in the general public will ever even get to see in their entire lifetime

ngk11
ngk11

They get a better bat and worse on defense at SS. I dont think this is a very good deal and I think Mo should have dealt some players to get a better player. I hope I am wrong and it works out. 

KindaFondaBravos
KindaFondaBravos

Cardinals LOVE to sign these druggies. They fit right in

JohnSomers
JohnSomers

No way he is worth that much money

Terrible signing, very inconsistent player

Surprised the cardinals would sign him

jacklaforge
jacklaforge

@x72 classless? Do you call the Blue Jays classless?  WIll you call whoever signs Nelson Cruz classless? whoever signs Bartolo Colon classless? Is it time to blackball all players who have made mistakes, admitted them, paid the price for their mistakes and are trying to start a new chapter? This is the problem with our society today...We love to throw stones at mistakes and hold them down because of it.....Now, if its someone like A Rod - who puts up a fight, takes it over the line, says he didn't do it, lies about it, and so on....then that is different.  Those guys should be chumped out of MLB because they continue to disgrace the game.  but for guys like Peralta, who immediately admitted he made a mistake, paid the price and is trying to start a new chapter...who are you to say a team who gives someone another shot is classless?  Where would you be in life if no one gave you another chance? Im thankful we still have organizations like St Louis who show what we as society should really be about.  Not casting stones to those who want to get better and progress.  

gymviking
gymviking

@djfarkus You can be a member of a union and disagree with some of it's policies. That doesn't make you a hypocrite, especially if you have to join.

JoeCabot
JoeCabot

@oasis1994 Yes, this is the country that you live in.  People don't get banished from society for making a mistake or an error in judgment.

eddie767
eddie767

@John4 Don't be mad that his parents wanted to be different,and yours were just "plain janes".

Cinti-fan
Cinti-fan

@DanaBunner The UNLESS part is the real factor involved here.  Time will tell.  Melky Cabrera followed up his suspension with 3 HR's in 334 at bats.  

John4
John4

@TomMaddocks Limited range at SS - The New York Yankees call that "Pasta Diving Jeter".  Almost like the name of a dinner at an Italian Restaurant!  

Michael10
Michael10

@ngk11 Not a fan of this deal myself, but the only trade options that would have provided a significant upgrade were Andrus (not happening after Texas dealt Kinsler) and Tulowitski, who would cost almost twice as much as Peralta for almost twice as long as well as at least three ML-ready prospects (Miller, Rosenthal, Adams?) to boot...

Michael10
Michael10

@KindaFondaBravos Pretty sure this is the first player St. Louis has signed that had been previously linked to PEDs...

Cinti-fan
Cinti-fan

@jacklaforge @x72

He did not admit his mistake until he was completely busted and had no choice.  This is his initial statement.

Peralta issued a statement through his attorney Barry Boss on Feb. 6, saying he’s never taken performance-enhancing drugs — “and anyone who says otherwise is lying.”



gymviking
gymviking

@JoeCabot  It was neither a mistake or an error. It was intentional to get an edge, and he parlayed it into a lot of money. Oasis was correct.

ngk11
ngk11

@Michael10 @ngk11 I think Drew made the most sense--Upgrade in Offense and Defense both. Would cost more money (which the Birds have plenty of) and cost nothing in players and prospects. But like I said before I hope I am wrong and Mo has proven to make the correct decisions in the past for sure

JohnSomers
JohnSomers

Way to add to the conversation.

No wonder why everyone hates cardinal fans

gymviking
gymviking

@jacklaforge @gymviking @JoeCabot Phht. Don't guess. You actually have no idea what you are talking about. There is nothing honorable or noble about getting caught cheating, taking a suspension, and then signing a big contract to make more money than most schools full of teachers to play baseball. If you want to decry humanity, take a look in the mirror because what you are reacting too is relatively unimportant in life, but you don't seem to know that.

jacklaforge
jacklaforge

@gymviking @JoeCabot It was certainly intentional but who are you to say it wasn't a mistake?  Have you ever done something intentionally and it ended up being a mistake to do? of course.  I guess you are in the camp of blackballing these guys who admit their wrongdoing, pay the price and want to start a new chapter?  Great example of what humanity has become now a days. 

Michael10
Michael10

@ngk11 @Michael10 Gotta disagree with Drew, he was my least favorite option on the board as he'll likely get similar years and money as Peralta with less upside. 

Drew's been just under a league average hitter the past three seasons -- which is better than Cardinal shortstops, but not close to Peralta -- and actually provided less defensive value according to WAR metrics, in part because his durability lags well behind Peralta's (who averaged 150 games over the seven seasons prior to his suspension, compared to Drew's 125). 

If they're going to tie up $12-13MM a year, I'd rather take my chances with the two-time All-Star, baggage and all...

gymviking
gymviking

@doghockey @JohnSomers I have 2 words for you; Rafael Furcal. Sometimes organizations do well despite making bad decisions, not because of the decisions they make.

doghockey
doghockey

@JohnSomers Not a Cardinal fan at all.  Just observing that the organization tends to make rather good personnel decisions, so I will to defer to their opinion rather than yours.

Michael10
Michael10

@JohnSomers What about the above user name or comment implies he's a Cardinals fan?