The St. Louis Cardinals have come to an agreement on a four-year, $53 million contract with shortstop Jhonny Peralta, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The deal is pending a physical, and should be announced within the next few days.
Peralta, 31, has also drawn interest from the Yankees, Mets, Mariners and Orioles this winter, but instead will head to St. Louis to fill the only gaping hole on the Cardinals' roster. The Cardinals relied on Pete Kozma to man the position in 2013, but he struggled offensively, hitting .217 with 1 HR and 35 RBI in 143 games. After a lackluster postseason performance from Kozma, the team decided to prioritize upgrading at shortstop and has been linked to many of the top available shortstops since the end of the World Series. According to reports, the Cardinals have expressed interest in trading forJed Lowrie (Athletics), Troy Tulowitzki (Rockies), J.J Hardy (Orioles), Elvis Andrus(Rangers), but ultimately decided to turn to the free agent market with the addition of Peralta.
The reigning National League champions have already been pretty busy this offseason. They traded 2011 World Series MVP David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and minor leaguer Randal Grichuk. This move addressed one of the team's needs that became apparent during the 2013 playoffs -- improved outfield defense. But perhaps their most impactful weakness was the offensive deficiencies of the shortstop position.
Peralta has one of the best offensive performances of his 11-year career -- posting a .303/.353/.457 slash one in 448 plate appearances for the Tigers. He's been exceptionally durable over the last nine years, playing in at least 140 games in every season since 2004 -- except for 2013. Peralta tested positive for PEDs (performance-enhancing drugs) and was suspended 50 games. While that damages his image to some degree, it should be noted that the suspension was the only significant amount of time he has missed in almost 10 years.
Peralta has been effective defensively over the last several years despite a physical appearance that doesn't exactly suggest above average range. But over the last three seasons, he has posted UZR/150s of 11.2, 13.7, and 4.2 -- which is good enough for the 3rd best UZR/150 in baseball over that span. Pete Kozma is also an above average fielder, so the Cardinals will benefit more offensively from this signing than they will in the field.His .358 OBP was second among shortstops with at least 400 plate appearances in 2013.
The Cardinals infield might end up looking completely different than it was last year. Matt Carpenter is expected to replace David Freese at third, Kolten Wong would then take over at second, and Allen Craig could spend more time in right field now that Carlos Beltran is even more unlikely to re-sign with the club. Matt Adams will likely see most of the at-bats at first base.
If Peralta can come close to repeating his high proclivity for getting on base, he might be a fixture at the top of the Cardinals batting order in 2014.
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