Peralta, 31, returned from his suspension to help the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs. And then he received a four-year, $53 million contract.

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JUPITER, Fla. - St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta, his eyes dancing, broke into an expansive grin hearing the news that his buddy finally got a job.

Finally, free-agent slugger Nelson Cruz found a team, signing with the Baltimore Orioles on Monday and set to join his new team Tuesday, a week after their camp opened.

Peralta, who couldn't wait to call his close friend, spit out the logical question: "So, how much did he get?''

I informed him Cruz received a one-year deal for $8 million.

Peralta slammed his eyes shut.

"Oh, no.''

Yep, only $8 million for the finest right-handed power-hitter on the free-agent market, just three months after turning turning down the Texas Rangers' $14.1 million qualifying offer.

It turned out to be a $6 million blunder.

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The first-round draft pick compensation proved to be a deterrent. So was his age, 33. There were those hamstring issues. His outfield defensive deficiencies.

And, of course, that cloud that hovered over him all winter: the 50-game suspension for the use of performance-enhancing drugs during his involvement with the infamous Biogenesis clinic in South Florida.

"That's tough,'' Peralta says. "Maybe he was asking for too much money. I feel bad for him.''

Cruz suddenly symbolizes baseball's drug policy at its finest. His involvement in the Biogenesis scandal and the resulting 50-game suspension likely cost him tens of millions of dollars in future earnings.

And Peralta has discovered that in some quarters, he symbolizes everything wrong with the system.

Yet, you travel from camp to camp and bring up Peralta's name, and no shortage of descriptions come to mind.

Bank robber.

Gentleman.

Cheater.

Stand-up guy.

Pariah.

If anything, this mix perhaps best captures the current state of baseball's ever-evolving relationship with the players it believes cheats the game.

Peralta, 31, returned from his suspension to help the Detroit Tigers in the playoffs. And then he received a four-year, $53 million contract.

It was the most lucrative deal ever provided to a player suspended for performance-enhancing drugs, and the second-biggest to a free-agent infielder during the winter.

That still eats at some veteran players.

"I'm a big believer that players are worth every dollar they get,'' Boston Red Sox outfielder Jonny Gomes told USA TODAY Sports. "You can't say that anybody is overpaid. But this is different.

"This is like if somebody was to rob a bank, eventually got caught, served five years in jail, got out, but still got to keep all the money.

"It's like, "No, no, you shouldn't be able to keep the money. You stole it!'

"That's how I compare it. And I like Peralta. I'm not mad at that guy. It's just that when a guy like (free agent shortstop) Stephen Drew is still at home, and this guy has that contract, it's a little tough.''

New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage told USA TODAY Sports: "It's a shame you get rewarded for cheating. There is no punishment. You get slapped on your wrist, you get suspended, and then you're wealthy beyond your wildest dreams.''

The complaints now are tempered, but similar to those initially expressed when Peralta signed.

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