Jhonny Peralta and the Lackluster Free Agent Market


September 19, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta (27) makes a play on a ball hit by Oakland Athletics shortstop Stephen Drew (not pictured) during the seventh inning at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

John Verburg broke the news to us yesterday that the Tigers are all but guaranteed to pick up Jhonny Peralta’s $6 million option for next season and, barring an unlikely blockbuster trade with the Texas Rangers, will be playing him everyday at shortstop.

"How about free agency? Well, there is a terrible market for free agents in general, but SS is the one position that looks really disgusting. As I said in the above linked article, if the Tigers decline the option on Peralta, he would become the best SS on the market, and it isn’t even close."

He’s absolutely right. FanGraphs did the leg work to scope out the upcoming free agent class and the view isn’t pretty. Here’s a list of all upcoming free agents who played at least one inning at shortstop this season:

*The age column represents their baseball age for the 2013 season. I’ve taken the liberty of adding Jhonny Peralta’s line for ease of comparison.

The list is primarily comprised of aging veterans with a glove reputation that likely now exceeds actual usefulness. Here’s a fact: none of the above players have yet eclipsed the 600 inning mark at shortstop this season. That alone speaks volumes about their ability to handle the position with regularity. It’s just not an inspiring list.

The big knock on Peralta has always been his lack of range – and many Tigers fans seem to be willing to sacrifice the bat for better defense – but none of the above guys really fit that bill. The guys that are still good defenders into their 30’s are typically of the lower-range, higher-reliability archetype.

There’s been a fair bit of clamor for Stephen Drew around Detroit (even as recent as this season), but he’s been injury plagued for the last two years, and he hasn’t hit when healthy. Over the last two seasons his OPS stands at just .683. It’s possible he finds the offensive form of his youth, but I doubt a move to Comerica Park from the dry air of Arizona (where he put up most of his numbers) would help his cause very much. And, according to UZR, he’s much the same as Peralta defensively. He gets dinged for having below-average range, but credit for not making a lot of errors. I’ve heard that line before.

The Oakland Athletics and Stephen Drew have a mutual option for $10 million next season (with a $1.35 million buyout) so it’s not even a given that he’ll make it to free agency. It basically comes down to this: if Drew opts out, he’ll be seeking more than $10 million and won’t be worth the cost. If the A’s opt out, then they’re indicating he’s not worth $8.65 million (salary minus buyout), so he’s probably not better than Peralta anyway.

Other intriguing names possibly include Alex Gonzalez, but he has missed most of the year with a season-ending knee injury (not a great sign for a will-be-36 year old), and Marco Scutaro, but he’s more of a second baseman now and the advanced defensive metrics have typically rated him as below-average at shortstop. Other than that, you’re pretty much looking at Ramon Santiago in free agent form.

I know there are plenty of fans of the “anyone but Peralta” mindset, but viable alternatives simply may not exist.

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