Of course — leave it up to perennial contenders like the St. Louis Cardinals to get their offseason work done early, right?
Then again, when an organization is as well-built as the Redbirds are, I suppose you could also say that there really wasn’t a whole lot that needed to be done to begin with. Still, if the rumors of the team being close to a deal with shortstop Jhonny Peralta end up coming to fruition, they would basically be set to go for 2014 as NL Central favorites once more after fortifying their outfield with arguably the best defender at center, Peter Bourjos.
The Peralta deal is not completed at this point, but the fit is obvious; one of the Cardinals’ only major glaring weakness in 2013 was the fact that they got essentially nothing out of their shortstop position (27th-ranked -0.3 fWAR), with neither Pete Kozma or Daniel Descalso showing that they would be able to handle starting duties in that spot.
That shouldn’t be a problem for Peralta, who ranks fourth among all MLB shortstops with 11.0 fWAR from 2011-2013 and who represents a significant upgrade (even if that’s not saying a whole lot) on offense with a pair of .800-plus OPS, 120-plus wRC+ seasons in the last three years. There are understandably some concerns over his suspension stemming from the Biogenesis scandal, but it might actually work out to the Cardinals’ advantage and drive the signing price down.
Even if the 31-year old winds up having a down season, it’s pretty unlikely that he’ll be a below-replacement player … which he has never been in any of his full seasons. That alone should make the signing worthwhile.
On top of the fact that it fills a major hole, though, Peralta also represents a unique fit to the St. Louis lineup given his positional flexibility. For now, it’s assumed that Matt Carpenter will take over for the departed David Freese at third, opening up a full-time second-base gig for Kolten Wong.
However, because Peralta also has prior experience at third (though he hasn’t played there for a few years), it’s not inconceivable for skipper Mike Matheny to mix things up in the infield, especially if Wong ends up struggling to find steady footing. It’s a luxury that only having several multi-positional players can provide, and even if the Cards do not end up going matchup-crazy and keep everyone in mostly the same spots, it’s surely can’t hurt.
If there is one concern about the rumored deal here, it’s the length of the term. At a reported four years, there’s a pretty decent chance that the Cardinals could end up overpaying the 11-year veteran in his declining years. Then again, the figures aren’t known, so it could actually end up being pretty reasonable; and if ever they needed to moved Peralta out of a demanding shortstop position down the line? Well, his versatility helps them in that respect too.
In short, there’s not a whole lot to dislike when it comes to this rumor. Should it get done, the only regret may come from other teams with similar needs who will wonder why they didn’t push harder to acquire the underrated shortstop.