The time for Jhonny Peralta to climb on his horse and ride out of town has come, my friends. But it's not that simple for the team. The St. Louis Cardinals are facing an awkward decision on the aging quickly infielder this week, and the options are pretty clear:
1) Release him and eat the ten million dollars like it's a chef salad from Imos.
2) Activate him and let him join Matt Adams as the pinch hitters who start in case of an emergency.
3) Activate him and treat him like Roger Dorn, asking him to purposefully get hit by a pitch late in a close game.
4) Find a trade partner and eat part of the salary. Like a you-pick-two at Bread Company.
My buddy Clay Beyersdorfer wrote about this for Redbird Daily, and the reality with Peralta is dim yet complicated. There's simply no easy way to deal with Peralta, because he's going to take starts from someone who is more important to the team and holds a valuable part of their future. Peralta is an expiring stock that the team would much rather buy out before it drops too low or becomes a distraction.
The fact is Peralta hasn't been productive in almost two years. Somewhere in the middle of the 2015 season-after a very good 2014 debut season-Peralta forgot how to field at an above average level and swing the bat for power. He never mashed 30 home runs in his career or carried the expectation of doing so into a season, but he suddenly became a pale rider at the plate two seasons ago.
Did the performance enhancing drugs wear off? They didn't seem to help him in the seasons after he took them, but perhaps they had more of an effect than we thought. He accepted the decision in August of 2013, and had suffered a hard downfall after the impressive 2014 season, so it's not like asking the question is overly harsh. Peralta's OPS dropped from .819 to .779 in 2014, and in 2015, his OPS+ (where your OPS is compared relative to other ballparks in the league) to a career low 103.
During his brief stint with Memphis this past week, Peralta has gone 4-11 while playing shortstop. Before he went down with a mysterious illness that resulted from an infection, Peralta struck out nine times in only 27 plate appearances. He collected three hits during that time frame. While he is feeling better these days, his bat isn't scaring anyone.
If Peralta takes any at bats from the hot hitting Jedd Gyorko, manager Mike Matheny will look like Ed Wood on the set of a big budget movie. Peralta has no room to move at third base.
How about shortstop? Aledmys Diaz is off to a slow start at the plate and his fielding isn't drying many tears from 2016, but he is the shortstop of the future and still produces more power at the plate than Peralta. The days of Jhonny guarding short at the big league level are done.
How about second base? Kolten Wong's defense may be more porous than ever, but for the first time in two seasons, the Cards are finally committing to the young player at a position over a long period of time. Wong's .351 OPS and 13 walks are a sign of good things to come, and he has hurt teams with the extra base hit so far this season.
Gyorko is the Cardinals cleanup hitter. Wong and Diaz are a part of the future and need to play in order to be better players. First base is an area Peralta has rarely played, and would be standing behind Adams for playing time due to effectiveness. Matt Carpenter isn't giving much room there to begin with.
It's quite possible that Peralta is the ten million dollar clown in the dugout who gets the occasional start and pinch hits. He isn't a stalwart on defense, and his slugging rests barely over .400 the past couple years. They say players age over the offseason, but I think Peralta went from able to idle real quick. The design of John Mozeliak's contract was set to get the worst of Peralta this season, but it kicked in earlier than expected.
He's also turning 35 years old on May 28, which means the clock is starting to tick extra fast on his durability. There's simply no room to play him, because you'd be sacrificing a team's winning ways that have sprung them from a leaky 3-9 start to an 18-7 record in recent times. Why mess with that by trying to squeeze the final drops of juice from a steak that dried out a couple years ago.
It wasn't the hand injury that took away Peralta's power. The high number of games played during the 2014 and 2015 seasons may have worn down the player's ability, or he simply stopped hitting at a high rate. No matter how you spin it, the news on Peralta is clear: his ability to produce got old quickly. I wouldn't expect it to return this month.
The Cards will eventually cash out on Peralta and take a hit in the process. It's inevitable at this point, because the team has competed successfully without his services. No one screamed during the past month that "Jhonny was needed". There are no alarms set on this team's clock for Peralta heroics. That time has passed.
Jhonny Peralta is coming back this weekend, but I wouldn't expect much. Black suits aren't fashionable, but the end of Peralta in St. Louis is near.