Jhonny Peralta’s game is a few notches down from Troy Tulowitzi and Elvis Andrus. He’s not as athletic as J.J. Hardy or as well rounded as Asdrubal Cabrera. He’s not equal to Stephen Drew defensively, either.
But the 31-year-old, 11-year veteran is still plenty capable of making the Cardinals a better team. That’s the key, right?
Let’s look at some reasons:
Offensively, he’s a vast upgrade over Pete Kozma and improving the offense has been general manager’s John Mozeliak’s top off-season priority. In each of the nine seasons Peralta has played at least 100 games, he’s hit at least 10 homers. Four times, he has surpassed 20 homers, most recently in 2011 when he put up a career-best .824 OPS playing home games at the spacious Comerica Park.
Peralta hit 11 homers for the Tigers last season to go with a career-best .303 batting average in 107 games while missing 50 games for violation of the MLB’s drug program. After being reinstated with three games to go in the regular season, he hit .311 (14 for 45) including the first two rounds of the postseason.
In his 11-year career, which has been spent entirely in the American League, Peralta has hit .268/.330/.425 with 156 homers.
While the terms being reported — four years and $50-plus million — make quite a financial commitment, it will not hamstring the Cardinals, who are clearing more than $40 million off their payroll. New national TV deals that begin in 2014 are expected to generate upwards of $25 million, too.
More significantly, the Cardinals won’t have to move any of their prize prospects to sign Peralta. They can keep all their young arms and they don’t have to deal Matt Adams. Because the Tigers didn’t bother to give Peralta a qualifying offer, the signing won’t even cost St. Louis a draft pick.
The question of PEDs
While concerns remain over the impact performance-enhancing drugs could have made on Peralta’s performance, the 45 at-bats he took after his return gives the Cardinals a reason to rest at least a bit easier.
While Peralta is about average defensively — “great hands, little range,” a scout said — the Peter Bourjos trade will allow the Cardinals to upgrade their defense around the shortstop position. With improvements at second, third and in center field, perhaps they can afford to slip a bit defensively at shortstop, especially if they’re gaining offense. They will be slipping defensively, without a doubt. “He’s not close to Kozma defensively,” the scout said. “He doesn’t have near the athleticism.”
Although Peralta is expected to take over shortstop, he has some versatility. He played 100 games at third base in 2010 and has seen limited action in left field and at first base. If Kolten Wong were to struggle, the Cardinals could move Matt Carpenter from third back to second, slide Peralta to third and insert Daniel Descalso or Kozma at shortstop.
Peralta doesn’t run well, especially for a shortstop, but the Cardinals still have picked up a net gain in speed with Bourjos moving into center field and Wong taking over second.
Next year’s lineup
The Cardinals’ new lineup might not look night-and-day better than a lineup of Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, Jon Jay, David Freese and Kozma. But if Peralta hits at his career-norm, next year’s lineup should be deeper and faster without having to sacrifice much in power.
Peralta would figure to hit second or seventh, depending on how Bourjos is producing. When Bourjos is hitting, his speed plays best in the leadoff spot or two-hole. That would give Cardinals a lineup against right-handers of Carpenter, Bourjos, Holliday, Craig, Adams, Molina, Peralta and Wong.
Surely the lineup would look more dangerous with Tulowitzki or Andrus but it still sets up better with Peralta than the one that finished 2013. And if holes develop, the Cardinals still own an adundance of resources to fill them.
You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter (@stanmcneal) or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.