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Monday Mop-Up Duty: an un-Cardinal like signing, and appreciating Mercer

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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.

 

mercer

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)

 

HE SAID IT II (RE: PERALTA) 

 

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

photo (35)

If you need a lift this holiday season, I’ve got you covered.

- TS

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Comments

  1. Nate83 says:

    Well done Travis. Thanks for putting Peralta’s numbers in context. I didn’t think this was any remarkable signing by them. Yes it was a position of need they had to address but Peralta won’t give them much more value then we get in Mercer and the cost seems to be a little much. His power numbers are much better but maybe that doesn’t continue.

  2. NMR says:

    -Gotta disagree on your analysis of the Peralta signing, Travis. You may not think there is value there, but one thing is certain: they did not outsmart themselves.

    Guess who gives out awards for good value signings? Nobody.

    The Cardinals exhausted all methods of finding a shortstop and arrived at one who significantly improves their team within budget and without giving up prospects or draft picks. That’s a good baseball decision all day.

    -The Bourjos trade also improves defense in Right Field by allowing legit options (Jay, Taveras) to improve over Beltran.

    -Didi Gregorius stinks.

    -The Kansas City Royals, more specifically GM Dayton Moore, stinks. Vargas and last years dumb signing, Jeremy Guthrie, will now make roughly $50m over the next four years for league average production, at best.

    -The Pirates won’t make any moves until the Winter Meetings. Will you be there, Travis?

    Great topics today, sir!

  3. NMR says:

    Hey buddy, thanks for the response in the last thread.

    I agree that four years for Peralta seems like too much. Wouldn’t have wanted to go that far, myself. But I also don’t see that as a reason to knock this deal, knowing St Louis’ history. If Peralta isn’t performing in two or three years, he won’t be a Cardinal. Or at least he won’t be an albatros in the Cardinals lineup. Focussing on the last year of the deal and not the first is missing out on the obvious benefit, IMO.

    Unfortunately, thats a risk I’m not sure the Pirates can take if given similar situations.

  4. Nate83 says:

    I totally agree. I’m not knocking the deal. As I said they filled a huge area of need with a very good player. I’ve seen some sky is falling this vaults the Cards lightyears ahead of the Pirates comments. It was nice to see Peralta’s numbers looked at closer and show that although this improves their team it’s hardly a nail in the coffin for the Pirates season. The Cards still have some questions going into next year and Pirates signing or trade at first could be just as big of an upgrade for the Pirates.

    Let’s let the entire off season play out before we announce winners and losers. The Cards have been aggressive. Wainwright, Holliday and Molina are not young and Beltran is leaving. They are close and need to be “all in”. The Pirates hopefully are at the beginning of their window of oppertunity. A Peralta deal gone bad would handcuff them going forward for many years.

  5. NMR says:

    For what its worth, I thought the Cardinals were a better team heading into the winter and see no possible way for the Pirates to improve in such a way where the Cardinals are not the better team leaving it.

    But I still think the Pirates could beat them in a five game series.

  6. Nate83 says:

    I agree they probably are. The improvement of Marte and Mercer if there is any will be the key to the Pirates season. That along with Cole possible becoming an ace and how Pedro takes his moderate success and converts it into something more sustainable. I believe he is a much harder worker then some give him credit for and he will continue to work on his game.

    Obviously who they get to play first and which combination of 2 starting pitchers they get will also be important but I do think the Pirates have ways of getting better internally this year and in the near future.

  7. NMR says:

    Pirates definitely, IMO, will get better internally in the coming years.

    I’m pretty bearish on Jordy, though. I don’t see him replicating last years .330 BABIP, and there’s a good chance he was below replacement level against righties (.654 OPS, below average defense).

    Conversely, I think the Pirates will have the best outfield in baseball in place by September, which is pretty neat.

  8. Derek Smith says:

    I can’t believe the high cost for these mediocre free agents right now. It is just unbelievable to me just how many players who are past their prime and weren’t that good in the first place are signing for right now. Example, Peralta. Vargas, too. I couldn’t believe that signing. I guess I thought of him as a Kevin Correia type at about 2/10. Unbelievable. I don’t understand how these guys can be getting this much.

    I really have lost any desire in the free agent market for the Pirates. I am much more interested in the trade market at this point.

  9. Derek Smith says:

    Oh, and one more point. While I like the thought of a Furcal type a lot, I would have no problem with Barmes coming back. He is very good defensively and is a fine back up at this point, especially for all the more he would command. What, maybe 1 year at $2M?

  10. Travis Sawchik says:

    Thanks, NMR

    I’m sure the Cardinals examined every option at short. …. I just don’t think Peralta is very good, and I think a strong BABIP-season inflated his value. (I also don’t buy the defensive metrics on Peralta). On their preference list going into the offseason, I wonder where he would rank?

  11. NMR says:

    Good question, Travis. I don’t have any doubt he was their top free agent, but I have no clue who they valued most on other teams.

    For what its worth, I think the Cardinals mistake at SS happened last July. Refusing to upgrade back then via trade could’ve conceivably cost them a championship and put them in this free agent position.

    If they never give Carlos Maritnez a shot to start, then refusing to trade him to the White Sox for Alexei Ramirez was a major mistake.

  12. Nate83 says:

    And that outfield will remain in place until 2018. That is just amazing. The Cutch deal just seems stupid now. The first 6 years is less then Peralta’s 4 year deal. The club option will be a steal by 2018.

  13. Nate83 says:

    Put a check next to my name as someone interested in Barmes coming back as the backup to Mercer. Good team guy who always made sense as a reserve more then a starter. He also protects against a Walker injury. Move Mercer to 2B and play Barmes at SS.

  14. NMR says:

    It is interesting to hear your distrust of the defensive metrics, though. Peralta’s the exact type of player I do look to the metrics for help. So much narrative surrounding him, including your own appeal to authority (…”there’s a reason why the Tigers traded for Jose Iglesias…), that I’m inclined to look at the numbers.

    Peralta’s body type doesn’t “look” like a good shortstop, and he has the “poor Detroit defense” stigma attached to him despite Cabrera and Fielder being the obvious problems.

    I don’t think he’s a +10 UZR guy like the metrics had him a few years back, but last years 4.8 seems reasonable.

  15. Nate83 says:

    It is hard to stomach sometimes Derek. You wonder why you should even get your hopes up about even getting a mid level free agent. All the new money did was allow mid level teams to out spend for the mid level free agents. I’m not sure we get Martin or Liriano last year if the TV money was already in play.

    The good news is it seems like even the high spending teams have to build from within and intelligent smart moves that are based on long term success instead of quick fixes is the way to go. With players stats declining at a younger age and power numbers not meaning as much the best commodity to have in baseball right now seems to be years of control and young pitching. The Pirates are sitting on a rather large stack of chips in that regard. Those chips can be cashed in through trade as you mentioned.

    I agree about the trade market being more interesting. For the first time in a generation they have farm system that is deep enough to make such trades that improve the team immediately. Hopefully the right moves are made. I’m not so sure the right move isn’t being patient and waiting for those chips to become really good and getting a kings ransom like the Rays did for Shields and should get for Price. Will Myers will be a top 5 MVP candidate for many years after Shields leaves the Royals hovering around .500. Man are they a poorly run team.

  16. steelkings says:

    There is a bit of a mental aspect of playing the game. That can be depressed when in the mist of a PED investigation.

  17. Travis Sawchik says:

    NMR, I don’t want to seem like I’m cherry-picking the occassions when I’m using defensive metrics but in this case I’ve seen Peralta play a lot of shortstop and I don’t like what I see. It’s rather subjective, but that’s what I’ve sene.

    Ideally you want eyes (scouting) to agree with the numbers. But for me they don’t with Peralta. And I find it strange that his defensive numbers spiked with Detroit.

  18. NMR says:

    I’ve done it before myself, Travis. Respect that more than pure adherance to one way or the other.

    I appreciate the replies!

 
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