Jhonny Peralta isn’t the perfect shortstop, but Jhonny Peralta isn’t the perfect shortstop, but

Payroll Flexibility is the Key to the Jhonny Peralta Option Decision

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Jhonny Peralta isn’t the perfect shortstop, but Troy Tulowitzki is already spoken for, so the team is going to have to settle for something less than ideal anyway. If we can accept that, we can free ourselves from idealizations, dreams, and rainbows and talk about Jhonny’s situation rationally.

(more after the jump)

First, he’s not that bad. Even the most ardent Peralta hater has to admit that fact. The Tiger’s haven’t gotten a lick of offensive production out of the shortstop position since Carlos Guillen’s knees gave out. Peralta is certainly a better hitter than the combination of Adam Everett, Ramon Santiago, and Danny Worth that we saw before his arrival. At the very least, Jhonny has the ability to drive a sacrifice fly to the outfield to score a runner from third. That’s more than we can say about a few other Tiger hitters. I’m more than comfortable with him as a number seven hitter.

But offense is only half of the equation here. Jhonny will be asked to play shortstop on an everyday basis. The internet, or at least the portion of it dedicated to the Tigers, is full of grumbling about his defensive abilities (or lack thereof), but I don’t see the big complaint. He played about a third of a season at short for the Tigers and in that time he was a whopping 0.4 runs below average according to UZR. If we go back over the last three seasons (seven outs shy of 2000 innings for Jhonny), he’s actually 1.1 runs above average.

I won’t pretend that his career fielding numbers are good, but he hasn’t been terrible in Detroit, and he wasn’t terrible at the end of his time in Cleveland. He’ll probably be in the bottom half of the defensive rankings, but he isn’t going to cost the team several games, or probably even one full game, over the course of the year with his defense.

But I’m not trying to sell you on Jhonny even being a good option, just that he’s not a bad one.
My second point is really my main point. The payroll flexibility that the team would gain by picking up the option makes this deal worth it.

To sign a (worthwhile) free agent, you’re going to have to pay out a multi-year deal at or near today’s value. What if he underperforms in a big way? What if his age really catches up to him? It’s very easy to end up paying for a guy that’s a couple of years past any sort of production. Remember Nate Robertson, Jeremy Bonderman, and Carlos Guillen? Fault of management or not, all three were given contracts that outlasted their usefulness. We don’t have that risk with Peralta. The Tigers are only on the hook for one year, and that’s worth the risk of a slight overpayment.

2010 was one of Peralta’s poorer seasons as a big leaguer, but he still put up an OK-but-not-great 1.5 WAR (FanGraphs). For the past few seasons 1 WAR has been worth approximately $4 million on the free agent market, so Jhonny’s 2010 season was worth roughly $6 million. The one year option deal would be worth $7 million (roughly 1.75 WAR).

So really we’re quibbling over a $1 million overpayment. Actually, it’s only the risk of an overpayment. He could make up those 2.5 runs in value and end up “earning” his $7 million next year.

And even if the bottom falls out and Peralta has the worst year of his career, then the Tigers can part ways with him at the end of the year and look elsewhere. Picking up Peralta’s option and maintaining some payroll flexibility for 2012 is the smart move.