The St. Louis Cardinals will pay Jhonny Peralta $52 million to play shortstop for them for the next four seasons, a transaction that has outraged some, and not because Peralta may or may not be skilled enough anymore to play shortstop tomorrow, let alone in four years.
Jim Leyland famously said, "Jhonny Peralta is no donkey," which is one of the endearingly succinct scouting reports of all time, so for the moment let's assume the Cardinals got themselves a good bat and adequate shortstop at the somewhat reasonable rate of $13 million a year.
Then there's this: a member of the Biogenesis 14 – the 31-year-old Peralta served a 50-game ban at the end of last season – just received a $52 million contract. Presumably, free agent Nelson Cruz was pleased to learn there are no lingering hard feelings between baseball's establishment and Tony Bosch's clients.
Like many others, Peralta survived the PED circle of life: Cheat, get caught, issue forceful denial, consider evidence, issue sincere apology, serve sentence, return like nothing ever happened, continue career. The Detroit Tigers said they forgave him, because to say otherwise violates the code of the clubhouse. What you see here, what you hear here, let it stay here. Besides, he hit .333 in October. The clubhouse would defend just about anything if it hit a ball in the gap once in a while.
Lest there be confusion, Peralta served his time, by the rule of MLB and the Players' Association. There is no paragraph in the Joint Drug Agreement that concludes: "… And henceforth is bound to a career everlasting of regret, suspicion and below-market contracts." Before pitchers (or, transversely, hitters) decide exactly what benefit a man may have received from Bosch's medicine cabinet (or if he ever climbed out of Tony Bosch's medicine cabinet), the marketplace does.
Melky Cabrera's price was $16 million over two years. So far, the 29-year-old has played in 88 games for the Toronto Blue Jays. In those games, he hit three home runs and batted, slugged and OPS-ed at or near career-low numbers. Bartolo Colon, 11 years older than Cabrera, received $3 million for one year and won 18 games for the Oakland A's. He's a free agent again and this time will pocket significantly more than $3 million.
Over the years, fans have learned to love their PED cheats. And hate other people's. The folks in St. Louis who booed Ryan Braun almost certainly will find it in their hearts to cheer Peralta, assuming he hits a ball in the gap once in a while. When Cabrera returned to San Francisco as a Blue Jay, he was booed. If you could build a condominium out of hypocrisy, the penthouse would be done up in black and orange.
Anyway, within hours of the Peralta signing, the relief pitcher and union rep for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Brad Ziegler, popped this tweet:
Later, he followed:
People really don't understand how this works. We thought 50 games would be a deterrent. Obviously it's not. So we are working on it again.— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
Just trying to make our game better when I leave it than it was when I got into it. Don't have all the answers, but trying, & MLBPA knows...— Brad Ziegler (@BradZiegler) November 24, 2013
Ziegler didn't name Peralta. It's possible he also intended a larger target, a general assessment of the fight against illegal (by MLB standards) substances, and was constricted by the light blue Twitter rectangle. Or, both. (I contacted Ziegler and he said he'd rather not comment further.)
The ensuing national conversation was scattered. Some blamed the Cardinals for issuing Peralta a raise. ("I don't think it's the Cardinals' responsibility necessarily to be the morality police on potentially future employment," St. Louis GM John Mozeliak told reporters.) Others called for an overhaul of the drug agreement, starting with stiffer penalties. Some, from behind the cloak of egg avatars, simply called Ziegler a pinhead.
It's the world we live in, and good for the bright and enlightened Ziegler for taking issue with it and saying so. With more like him over the past couple decades, the sport – including the players' union – might not have endured Biogenesis, or these difficult Hall of Fame ballots, or the long-term consequences of young men putting unnatural substances in their bodies for extended periods of time.
I recently had a lengthy, somewhat edgy, conversation with a retired player who was very good – borderline Hall of Fame – in the league for more than a decade. He railed against the cheaters he played against. He said they kept him from earning the money he should have, and diminished his legacy as a player. I asked why he didn't say anything at the time.
"You just didn't do that," he answered. "It's a brotherhood. You couldn't."
So, why complain now? Isn't it still a brotherhood? Or does the relationship die with the paychecks?
"You just couldn't."
Yet, he was still mad.
This isn't about Ziegler, the one voice in a thousand. It's about the system, and what cures what can't be cured, and beyond that the drip-drip-drip of suspensions out of the Dominican summer league, and Alex Rodriguez vs. The World, and the filthy lengths people will go to earn a buck. So, Peralta got a raise, and it's because the Cardinals so desperately needed a shortstop in a market so desperately thin on shortstops, and it bothered some people, maybe enough to make some changes. If so, then that $52 million was well spent. If not, well, at least the Cardinals didn't get a donkey.