CLARK BUILDING – It’s tough to question any decision the Cardinals make, any transaction they execute, given their track record.
I’ve written a lot about their incredible recent drafts, particularly their historic 2009 draft. They have the best development system in baseball. They’ve supplemented a homegrown core with value free agent signings like Carlos Beltran. They’ve had incredible success at the MLB level over the last decade. St. Louis GM John Mozeliak is a really smart guy and he’s surrounded by smart people.
All that said, I don’t get Jhonny Peralta signing.
Like everyone, I understood shortstop was the Cardinals’ most glaring need for more than a year and that they did not have to give up young talent, or surrender a draft pick, to sign Peralta.
I understand that free agent market values continue to inflate. While $13.25 million per year million seems like a ton of treasure for Peralta, if he’s a 2.5 win player, then it’s a reasonable average annual value. (Since a win is valued at about $5.5 million on the free agent market.)
I understand that the Cardinals probably looked under every rock in the trade market and other teams were probably making outrageous offers, targeting their prized young arms. See: the Orioles asking for Shelby Miller for J.J. Hardy.
Still, I don’t understand giving four years and $53 million to Peralta. Here’s why:
*While the advanced fielding metrics are relatively kind to Peralta, there’s a reason why the Tigers traded for Jose Iglesias and moved Peralta off shortstop last season beyond his PED issues: Peralta does not add much value defensively. His defensive runs saved spiked when he joined the Tigers, and I wonder if that’s simply because he was better positioned. For his career, his Range Runs Saved Above Average is -33. And that’s backed up by the eye test where he appears to lack range.
*I also question the bat. I think he’s a candidate for regression. His BABIP last season was a career-best .375 and 100 points higher than his 2012 mark when he batted .239. He has a career .315 BABIP. He’s been wildly inconsistent at the plate and his strikeout rate jumped four points last year and his swinging strike rate jumped two points.
*While it might not be a fair comp, Melky Cabrera‘s performance crashed after he was a year removed from a positive PED test.
*What is most surprising to me is the Cardinals would want to pay for Peralta’s Age 32-35 seasons when he’s likely to begin to decline.
Yes, Pete Kozma represented a void. The Cardinals were not going to begin 2014 with Kozma as their starting shortstop. But Peralta might very well be defensive downgrade and, offensively, he’s been inconsistent throughout his career and likely about to enter his decline phase. And like every free agent, the Cardinals are overpaying.
To me, at least, it seems like the Cardinals broke a Cardinal rule: they didn’t find value.
STARTING NINE THOUGHTS
9. On contrast to the Peralta signing, I thought the trade the Cardinals made on Friday – acquiring Peter Bourjos for David Freese – was really smart.
The Cardinals’ greatest weakness in 2013 wasn’t shortstop play, it was overall defensive efficiency and the Cardinals upgrade at three defensive positions – CF, 3B (where Matt Carpenter will move) and 2B (where Kolten Wong will live) with the trade.
That was a very Cardinals-like move to me.
8. The Reds (1st) and Pirates (5th) had a considerable edge over the Cardinals (21st) in defensive efficiency last season. The Cardinals closed that divide … though I doubt that they added defensive value at shortstop.
7. I thought the Pirates might be in the market for a shortstop, at least a platoon partner for Jordy Mercer, but I’ve come to have a new appreciation of Mercer this offseason, particularly after the Peralta signing.
Peralta’s OPS+ was 119 last season, which is very good for a shorstop.
Merce’rs OPS+ was 110 last season.
Mercer hit .285 last season and he posted near elite rates for zone contact (91 percent) and swinging strike (6.9).
For reference in 2012, Matt Carpenter‘s zone contact rate was 90.8 and his swinging strike was 6.7. In 2013, Carpenter improved and became elite.
I’m not suggesting Mercer is Carpenter but I believe he has a chance to hit for a high average and be an above-average offensive shortstop. Mercer’s hands aren’t as reliable as Peralta’s but his range was graded as similar.
In 2014, Mercer will make near the league minimum and perhaps be an every day shortstop. Peralata will be one of the highest paid Cardinals.
I asked Huntington if he viewed Mercer as an everyday shortstop, a platoon partner or a super utility player in 2014.
Said Huntington: “We are comfortable with Jordy at SS but that does not limit us to exploring alternatives or compliments.”
Especially when looking at the shortstop market, there’s nothing wrong with Mercer as an everyday option in 2014. The Pirates’ greatest needs are elsewhere.
6. That said…. Mercer mashed left-handed pitch last season, batting .410 against lefties. That’s why I thought if you can find a suitable platoon partner with Mercer, the Pirates could create a real competitive advantage at shortstop. The problem is they’re aren’t a lot of left-handed hitting shortstops out there.
The 2013-14 market is making Mercer look like a more attractive everyday SS option
5. The left-handed hitting Stephen Drew is not a realistic option for the Pirate given his likely asking price (north of Peralta?) and his agent (Scott Boras).
4. But what about the switch-hitting Rafael Furcal as a platoon partner or backup for Mercer? Bottom of the barrel? Yes. Value to be procured? Perhaps.
Furcal missed last season with an elbow injury, but he doesn’t strike out much, he has some speed left, and he’s a career .278 hitter against right-handed pitching. But he is going to be 37 next year.
3. A better option, and long shot, might be talking to the Diamondbacks about the left-hand hitting Didi Gregorius. Gregorius can really pick it and he showed some pop as a rookie. The Diamondbacks also like their Triple-A shortstop Chris Owings who is MLB ready.
2. While the world waits on AJ Burnett, the Pirates have called a number of mid- to low-level starting pitchers with upside. I’d be shocked if they didn’t call Dan Haren, who was a great value signing for Dodgers at one-year, $10 million. Haren had one of the best BB/K rates in the game last season. But Haren, like Josh Johnson, preferred to play and rebuild his value on the West Coast.
Haren and Johnson were to of the best upside/value plays on the market. The cost of Burnett might have just increased.
2a. Vargas at $32 million and four? Really, Royals?
1. Many have asked what are the Pirates waiting for?
Well, the Pirates were in late on Johnson and they’re waiting on Burnett.
But remember, the Pirates’ brass said they were going to let the market play out and they didn’t make an free agent signings last offseason until signing Russell Martin on Nov. 30. I would think the Pirates would like to have announced a few moves by fan fest in late Dec., but they appear to be in no rush.
HE SAID IT (RE: PERALTA)
Jhonny Peralta's deal just doesn't seem like a usual #STLCard type transaction to me. Years and money don't fit the mold some how.
— Bernie Pleskoff (@BerniePleskoff) November 25, 2013
HE SAID IT II (RE: PERALTA)
@Sawchik_Trib Maybe, but file this under "got any better ideas?"
— Jonah Keri (@jonahkeri) November 24, 2013
STAT OF THE WEEK: 85,000,000
Those are the dollars the Yankees guaranteed Brian McCann over the weekend after letting catcher Russell Martin walk after the 2012 season.
McCann posted a 2.7 WAR In 2013.
Martin posted a 4.1 WAR.
The Martin signing is looking better every day.
NON-BASEBALL RECOMMENDATION OF THE WEEK
If you need a lift this holiday season, I’ve got you covered.