Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Making Sense of the Peralta Deal

By Jeff Kallman

So what to make of the Jhonny Peralta signing with the St. Louis Cardinals, in the wake of his having been one of the Biogenesis 13? Among other things:

1) A four-year deal at $52 million dollars isn't exactly what anyone expected to see for a player bagged over actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances. Without that issue, however, it's a questionable deal considering Peralta's age (32), his faltering defensive range, and his batting average-dependent on-base percentage.

Grantland's Jonah Keri has observed he had a "flukish" .374 2013 batting average on balls in play; when his BAbip was 99 points lower a year earlier, Keri notes, Peralta's overall batting average was .239 and his on-base percentage .303 — 30 points below his lifetime average. His modest ability to take walks doesn't help; his none-too-great speed makes him something of a liability when he does reach base. But Peralta comes cheap in another way: he doesn't cost the Cardinals a draft pick, and spending dollars rather than forcing itself to deal prize young pitching for critical middle infield help is actually a bargain for the Cardinals right now.

2) To his credit Peralta didn't offer any reason why he indulged in whatever he indulged; he shook off any room to make excuses; he didn't talk about his free agency to be and any possible payday he might reasonably expect. But he also didn't seem to indicate he really understood the position in which he thrust the Tigers, who traded to get Jose Iglesias from the Red Sox because they suspected, at least, that Peralta was going to the deep freeze awhile.

3) Peralta returned in time to help the Tigers in the postseason, and there were surely those who wondered whether the Tigers had learned all that much from, say, the Giants' experience with Melky Cabrera in 2012. But Cabrera also engaged in confirmed subterfuge in a bid to cover his tracks, embarrassing the Giants even further, surely the compelling reason they refused him postseason participation. The Giants won the World Series without him. The Tigers welcomed Peralta back in part because he'd done nothing of Cabrera's sort in any bid to cover his hide. Peralta performed usefully enough in the 2013 postseason, all things considered. And it wasn't enough to help the Tigers reach the World Series.

4) You take seriously such complaints as from Arizona pitcher Brad Ziegler, who didn't mention Peralta by name but didn't necessarily have to. "It pays to cheat," he tweeted, almost as soon as the Peralta signing made the news. "Thanks, owners, for encouraging PED use." Ziegler followed up with two more, separate tweets. "People really don't understand how this works. We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again," said one. The followup indicated who "we" might be: "Just trying to make our game better when I leave it than it was when I got into it. Don't have all the answers, but trying, & MLBPA knows..."

5) Then there were separate tweets from veteran free agent reliever David Aardsma. "Apparently getting suspended for PED's means you get a raise. What's stopping anyone from doing it?" read the first. "I had 2 major surgeries in 5 months and made it back clean, nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat and get raises for doing so," read the second.

6) Those and other similar complaints didn't go unnoticed by Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak. "Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making," ESPN quotes him saying. "In his case, [P]eralta admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes, and obviously if he were to make another one, then it would be a huge disappointment."

7) Most of us don't necessarily expect inflated paydays when copping to professional malfeasance. Melky Cabrera faced free agency at the end of 2012; the Giants had made plain enough they had no intention of bringing him back even as a re-signing. He got two years and $16 million. So did Marlon Byrd, a PED suspendee in 2012. Peralta just finished a three-year deal worth $16.25 million. Call the Cabrera and Byrd deals four years at $32 million and Peralta will make almost twice that much over his just-finished deal with his new deal. If you presume what many if not most presume about actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, then, yes, Peralta is getting a big fat raise for cheating.

8) We once presumed ourselves a society believing unequivocally in second chances. In the past couple of decades, it seems we've become one preferring to run miscreants off into oblivion for first offenses far less grave than Peralta's, though that tends too often to depend upon who is the miscreant and what if any vested interest we have in him. Concurrently, we've become one who'd let miscreants off the hook for first offenses far more grave than Peralta's. It's been a cliche long since, but you just might find far less outrage over a fat free agency contract handed an athlete physically attacking his spouse or girl friend.

9) It's wise not to dismiss Ziegler's and Aardsma's critiques out of hand. Giving a second chance is one thing, but leaving the impression that baseball, which has caught up to and even surpassed other organized sports in fighting off actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances, can yet neutralize its disciplines against its lawbreakers is something else. Sadly-departed Players Association chief Michael Weiner didn't move to quash the expressions of, say, Max Scherzer and Skip Schumaker when they spoke in the Biogenesis heat about measures such as contract-voidings for such baseball lawbreakers. Perhaps that's what Ziegler alluded to when he tweeted that "obviously" a 50-game deterrent wasn't quite sufficient. It's one thing to forgive a first-time offender who's served his sentence, but it's something else again to sign him to a big free agency deal that impresses even a few as neutralizing a deterrent.

10) By the present system as it is, the Cardinals committed no crime with the Peralta deal. But other than the contract-voiding idea Scherzer and Schumaker raised, there are those players who've kicked around such ideas as full-year suspensions for first offenses and lifetime bans for seconds; a penalty system based upon who just wants the edge and who used actual or alleged PEDs for other, viable reasons such as health concerns (they've been there, whether or not we admit or accept them, though such a system would impose the burden of proof on the player in question); delaying an offender's free agency for a year (Peralta might have seen a far different payday if that had been the case for him, of course); compelling a team penalty for signing a past offender. (What sort of penalty — paying into a PED education program? Forfeiting x number of draft picks? Forfeiting x number of free agency signings over the coming offseason?)

11) Another of the Biogenesis 13, Nelson Cruz, acknowledged his error as he was suspended, saying he'd gone to Biogenesis on behalf of a gastrointestinal infection that dropped his weight enough to alarm him about his playability. "I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse," he said. He's still on his first free agency market at this writing. At season's end it was debatable as to what kind of payday he might see. The Peralta deal may have shrunk the margin of debatability considerably.

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