Third base has been a position Cardinals fans have been anxious for an upgrade at ever since Matt Carpenter was announced as the first baseman for the 2017 season. But is there a reason that management has remained stagnant at the position?
Jhonny Peralta will take over as the Cardinals starting third baseman next year, however with likely a short leash, as Jedd Gyorko is waiting for his shot. Yet even with Gyorko’s breakout season last year and Peralta’s consistency the last three years, it is still viewed as a weak spot. Why?
Well, for starters, Peralta was injured last season. A lot. And in only 313 plate appearances, hit for his lowest batting average as a Cardinal, and only eight home runs. Also, in time at third base, he failed to impress defensively despite not being a terrible defensive shortstop. And for those reasons, fans are pessimistic about his potential to rebound next season.
But how much of his decline last year was due to injury? After returning from injury at the beginning of the season, Peralta hit just .221, before being placed back on the Disabled List. After returning from injury, Peralta hit .280 in August, and hit .293 in September. Yes, his power was down, but his average was high enough that it didn’t matter as much. He finished the year with a .260 batting average, but with the fan’s reacting to his talent, you would believe it would be much lower. No, .260 with 8 home runs is not a great season, but is it bad enough to warrant a huge contract to an aging player, or a trade that could deplete the farm system? No, it isn’t.
Plus, Peralta is only signed for one more season, and the 2017 free agent market looks significantly stronger than what’s available now, especially considering who has already been signed.
Third base will not be the strongest position for the Cardinals in 2016, but I would wager that the infield as a whole will be stronger next season if Peralta can stay healthy.
Jhonny Peralta’s resurgence at the end of last year showed that he can still hit, and with further adjustment at the third base position, even at his age, he could become a serviceable defensive third basemen. In 2015, Peralta hit .275 with 17 home runs, and while I would not count on him to match those numbers, fully expect him to hit at least .260 with 15 home runs.\
Peralta’s thumb injury is also an injury that players can bounce back from, although it is also an injury that severely hampers one’s ability to hit during recovery. This would explain Peralta’s down season, and would also provide hope for a sizeable improvement next year.
Even if Peralta struggles early, which could very well still happen, Jedd Gyorko will be right behind him in the Utility role, anxious for the starting job. While few expect Gyorko to hit 30 homers next year, he has proven to be a good hitter, and fine defensive player should he need to be.
Third base may end up being one of the Cardinals’ weakest positions. But I think that speaks more to the strength and consistency of the team as a whole more than the struggles of Peralta. But I believe he is poised for a bounce back season, and in a year where he plays not only for the team but for his free agent value, expect him to make some big strides, turning third base into a strength, rather than weakness, for the team.
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