For the first time in a long time, there is serious uncertainty on the left side of the Yankees’ infield. At this time last year we were all being told Derek Jeter‘s rehab from ankle surgery would have him ready for Spring Training, plus Alex Rodriguez‘s left hip injury wasn’t even a thing yet. Some concern about Jeter, yeah, but overall the left side of the infield was not a full-fledged problem. Obviously, circumstances have changed.
“I think the left side of the infield, for various reasons, has question marks. Whether it’s recovering from a broken ankle in Derek or the controversy that’s yet to be resolved with Alex,” said Brian Cashman to Andy McCullough yesterday. New York has already been in contact with Omar Infante, Kelly Johnson, Brendan Ryan, and Brandon Phillips just in case Robinson Cano signs elsewhere, but there is no “just in case” at shortstop and third base. They need help. Everyone knows it.
In a perfect world, the Yankees would add a player capable of playing both shortstop and third base since their left side of the infield needs may change throughout the summer. (I’m sure they will.) It just so happens that type of player is available via free agency this winter in Jhonny Peralta, who’s spent the last three-plus years with the Tigers after opening his career with the Indians. Let’s break down the 31-year-old’s game to see if he’s a fit for the Bombers.
- First and foremost, Peralta can hit. Especially by left side of the infield standards. He put up a .303/.358/.457 (123 wRC+) batting line this past season and a .278/.334/.438 (109 wRC+) line over the last three years, doing most of his damage against lefties (114 wRC+ since 2011) as a right-handed batter. Peralta’s strikeout (18.5% since 2011) and walk (7.7%) rates are pretty much exactly league average, so he doesn’t have any serious problems controlling the strike zone.
- His defense is better than he gets credit for. Peralta has played shortstop almost exclusively with Detroit, posting good to great defensive stats across the board since 2011: +1 DRS, +25.3 UZR, +16.2 FRAA, and +11 Total Zone. He dabbled in left field last this season and spent a couple thousand innings at third base earlier in his career.
- Peralta has been to the postseason a bunch of times in his career and has performed very well, hitting .283/.326/.506 (122 wRC+) with eight homers in 178 plate appearances spread across 45 career October games. I don’t know how you value past postseason performance, but either way, this isn’t a negative.
- Peralta is a very durable player, appearing in at least 140 games every year from 2005-2012. He has never once been on the DL as a big leaguer.
- The Tigers did not make Peralta (or anyone else) a qualifying offer, so teams will not have to surrender a high draft pick to sign him.
- Peralta’s offensive performance has been very up-and-down throughout his career. Here are his wRC+’s since breaking into the league full-time in 2005: 136, 85, 105, 112, 83, 91, 122, 86, 123. Are you getting the guy who was 20% better than league average twice in the last three years, or the guy who was 10-15% below-average three times in the last five years?
- He won’t give you anything on the bases. Peralta has attempted only 34 steals in 1,383 career games (38% success rate) and he’s been consistently below-average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.). Speed is not part of his game.
- Peralta was one of 12 players suspended 50 games for their ties to Biogenesis this August. He said he made a “terrible mistake” in “spring of 2012” in a statement without elaborating further. Obviously performance-enhancing drug stuff creates some uncertainty.
The Yankees have been connected to a ton of middle infielders already this offseason, but Peralta is not (yet) one of them. I have been wondering if the team would try to steer clear of players with PED ties in an effort to “clean up their image,” so to speak, but Cashman told McCullough they “certainly have to be open-minded” about such players this winter. The fact that they’ll tender Frankie Cervelli a contract is an indication they won’t close the door on those guys, which is a good thing in my opinion. There’s a system in place and Peralta served his time.
Not too many comparable infielders have hit the free agent market in recent years, and certainly none with a super-recent PED suspension in their history. That complicates things a bit. Jeff Keppinger’s contract (three years, $12M) with the White Sox strikes me as way too light for Peralta, so maybe the deals signed by Marco Scutaro (three years, $20M) and Aramis Ramirez (three years, $36M) are more appropriate. Splitting the middle and calling it $28M across three years ($9.3M luxury tax hit) sounds good to me, but I’m terrible at estimating this stuff. Remember, power pays and Peralta has it (18 homers in 162 games for his career), especially relative to his position. Three years and $30M might be more accurate.
It’s important to remember that Peralta has, you know, a say in where he signs. The idea of splitting time between short and third depending on the day might not be all that appealing to him, especially if other clubs (the Cardinals?) offer him a full-time job at shortstop. Stephen Drew turned the Yankees down last winter because of uncertainty about playing time (and position). This stuff matters to these guys. Peralta’s year-to-year inconsistency worries me a bit but not enough to scare me away completely. He makes plenty of sense for New York if the price is right. Do the Yankees make sense for Peralta though? He could opt for a steadier job elsewhere.