Rosenthal: It pays to cheat, at least in Jhonny Peralta’s case

That’s it. The Jhonny Peralta contract will be a tipping point, leading to harsher penalties for players who are suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.

Prior to Peralta striking it rich, $16 million for two years seemed to be the standard free-agent deal for a position player coming off a PED suspension.

That’s what Melky Cabrera got last offseason. That’s what Marlon Byrd got this offseason. But Peralta, in his new deal with the St. Louis Cardinals, will earn more than three times that sum.

The Cardinals are in agreement with Peralta on a four-year, $53 million contract, according to major-league sources. And while some fans are outraged, they hardly are the only ones disgusted.

“It pays to cheat,” Arizona Diamondbacks reliever and player representative Brad Ziegler tweeted Sunday. “Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use.”

Ziegler was referring to the willingness of clubs to reward drug cheats, but he knows the players are just as responsible for the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) as the owners.

The pitcher said in a separate tweet, “We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it’s not. So we are working on it again.”

Indeed, if players are going to reap financial benefits after serving PED suspensions, then the solution is to make them forfeit even more salary through increased penalties.

Ziegler declined to elaborate on his tweets when contacted by But rest assured, he is not the only player who believes harsher penalties are necessary to curb PED use.

The issue, in fact, is so sensitive, other players also declined comment Sunday, apparently under instructions from the union.

Still, the players won’t be silent long.

A number of them are likely to suggest changes to the JDA at the union’s annual board meeting in early December. Any such changes would need to be collectively bargained with the owners.

I remain skeptical of harsher penalties as a panacea, agreeing with the position of some in the union that the fear of getting caught is a more effective deterrent.

Michael Weiner, the late union chief, held that position, but I doubt the new union leadership can persuade the players that it is still the right one.

Peralta is the final blow.

He accepted and served his 50-game suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis, a South Florida clinic that allegedly provided players with PEDs. Under the current system, he has every right to his $53 million, and the Cardinals have every right to give it to him.

In the view of many players, though, it is wrong that Peralta is landing a whopping contract less than four months after admitting that he used PEDs. Peralta, after his suspension, appeared for the Detroit Tigers in only three regular-season and 10 postseason games. And now look at him.

Free-agent outfielder Nelson Cruz, a slugging outfielder who also was suspended 50 games in August for his involvement with Biogenesis, might do even better on the open market than Peralta.

So yes, something is indeed amiss.

Under the JDA, players receive suspensions of 50 games for a first offense, 100 games for a second and a lifetime ban for a third. Some players would like to see a one- or even two-year suspension for a first offense and a lifetime suspension for a second.

Other ideas also are in play, including a two-tiered penalty system that distinguishes between players who intentionally cheat and players who do not. The burden of proof in such a program would be on the player, who would need to demonstrate that his misstep was inadvertent.

Financial disincentives also could be instituted for PED users and the teams that employ them. A player could have his free agency delayed for a year. A team might be required to make a significant additional payment – perhaps through a donation to PED education – if it signs a past, confirmed user.

As one player recently told me, “We’ve just got to figure out what actually makes sense. What we don’t want to do is rush into something, make a rash decision based on emotion and have it end up down the road causing major problems.

“It’s all stuff that has to be evaluated and looked at from both sides. It’s not all about money. We’re role models. We need to act it.”

Not all players, though, share the same sense of social responsibility. Better to look at this, instead, in the simplest possible terms.

A system is in place. The system isn’t working. The system needs to be changed.