ST. LOUIS — Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak figured there would be questions about Jhonny Peralta and his connection with performance-enhancing drugs. The GM was right, too.
Mozeliak addressed Peralta and the PED issue as well as the Cardinals’ busy off-season at a news conference Monday morning at Busch Stadium. Some of the highlights:
Why Peralta? “The shortstop market was not deep in free agents. There really were two that were being bantered about (Stephen Drew and Peralta). It was really focusing on someone who could hit from the right side, someone who was a steady defensive player, someone that had experience and could fit right in. We certainly explored the trade market at many levels, trying to see what we could do there, but the acquisition cost just seemed to be very preventative for us.
“In the end, signing a player on the free-agent market (with) no draft compensation attached to it made all the sense in the world. This came together really quickly. I did meet with Jhonny Peralta and his representatives at the GM meetings (two weeks ago), but from there to where we were on Saturday, a lot of things moved quickly Friday night into Saturday morning.”
On the market for Peralta: “We felt like the longer it went, the more difficult it might be for us. Some teams were looking at him as possibly a third baseman and I heard rumors (that he was being pursued) as a left fielder. All that was stirring up the market so we tried to put a deal out there that would make him want to be a Cardinal.”
On the apprehension generated by Peralta’s PED suspension: “There’s always concerns. Character and makeup are something that we weigh into our decision-making. But in his case, he admitted what he did, took responsibility for it and at this point in the game, there’s nothing that says he isn’t free to sign with some club. I don’t think it’s the Cardinals’ responsibility to be the moral police on potentially future employment. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes. Obviously, if (he) were to make another, it would be a huge disappointment.”
Do you feel he’s clean? “By my understanding, (his involvement) happened in ’12 so he’s played a full year clean, so yes. …
“You can only do so much due diligence. From what we’ve been told, we have a high level of confidence that this was a one-time event.”
On outside players who have been critical of a PED-user being given such a lucrative contract: “Everybody is entitled to their opinions. If the players association wants to see stronger penalties, I don’t think anybody in Major League Baseball is going to prevent that. This is something that is negotiated and in the last basic agreement, this is what was agreed upon. I imagine if the players as a whole want to see change, they’ll probably get it.”
Did you consult with Matt Holliday, who has been outspoken at times about harsher penalties? ” I didn’t have a conversation specifically about PEDs with him. I did talk to him about this player and he did think it was a nice fit for us. You have to separate the two issues. From the 10,000-foot view, people do want to see stricter penalties, but when you look at it more in a silo on each particular player, we did not feel it was our job to penalize him for his past mistakes.”
Generally on the 50-game suspension for first-time abusers: “Right now, 50 games does not seem to be necessarily stopping it. But I do think Major League Baseball has done a great job trying to clean up this game and I feel like they’ve taken great steps to do so.”
On how Peralta grades out defensively: “Analytically, this may sound surprising to you, he graded out pretty well, certainly along the lines of an average shortstop. You combine that with his offensive skills, all of a sudden he becomes well above average at that position.”
Why a four-year deal? “Well, as you can imagine, this is a lot market driven. Two (years) would have made a lot more sense, but that wasn’t possible so you adjust to what’s going on. Fortunately for us, one of the resources we did have was payroll flexibility, so we decided to deploy it that way.”
On whether Peralta will play shortstop for the entire contract: “I don’t know if I have to answer that today. I certainly think he’s capable of doing it for four years. One nice thing about him is you do have flexibility if you need to move him. The attraction to us was he can play short and he’s got a very strong offensive skill set to go with that.”
The significance of not having to give up a draft pick to sign Peralta (who was not made a qualifying offer by the Tigers): “I wasn’t overly concerned about having to give up a draft pick when you’re talking about these particular players (referring to Drew as well as Peralta). It was more of a bonus. The fact that we offered a (qualifying) contract to (Carlos) Beltran, we knew we were going to get something back.”
Were you surprised the Tigers didn’t issue a qualifying offer to Peralta? “I could certainly understand why they might not. When you look at all the moves they’ve made now, maybe they might rethink that. When you’re dealing with it back then, five days after the World Series, I could see why they didn’t.”
On how Peralta fits in the clubhouse: “Everything I’ve heard about him, he’s a popular guy in the clubhouse, very well liked. You look at the way Detroit welcomed him back after his suspension will tell you a lot about him.”
On finding a shortstop with experience: “Given how young our roster is, having some veteran leadership in that clubhouse is beneficial. Even though Jhonny might not be the most outspoken or loud voice, he’s someone that’s been through a lot. He’s experienced a lot and should bring value to our clubhouse.”
How many shortstops did you consider? “We were connected to a lot and there were reasons for that, but I felt like if we could do this from a free-agent standpoint, that would put us in the best spot.”
On rumors that Kolten Wong could be traded and Peralta moved to third and another shortstop brought in? “I could not envision (Peralta) being our third baseman next year. Part of what we’ve tried to do over the last four or five days was to create an opportunity for Wong. We accomplished that. I know a lot is being written about possibly moving him. There’s no truth to that.”
Can you see Pete Kozma as part of next year’s team? “I could see that as a possibility, absolutely. Right now, we’ve accomplished what we set out that we wanted to do. Over the next week to week and a half, we’ll reassess where we are directionally from my leadership group and get with the coaching staff and see what the next step is.”
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.