As we are quickly approaching the All-Star break, teams are analyzing their positions of strength and weakness in order to improve their stock before the trade deadline. The Cards overall have a solid team, albeit hit by numerous injuries, but their weak bats are a cause for concern. In Ben’s game preview yesterday, he ripped on Jhonny Peralta for not playing up to the big contract he signed with the Cards in the offseason. That allegation got me thinking because I have felt like Peralta has been overperforming for the Redbirds. I questioned whether or not Peralta really had panned out for the Cards, and similarly, if any of their offseason acquisitions had made this team better.
Over the winter, the Cards made two blockbuster moves (Peralta and the trade for Peter Bourjos) as well as many more minor moves to try to improve this team. I’ve chosen to dissect those two high-profile moves as well as two smaller moves to see if they actually made the Cards a better team.
Let’s start with Jhonny because he’s already the focus point of this article. The Cardinals signed Peralta to a four-year, $53 million dollar deal back in November and received their fair amount of criticism for it. The contract set the record for the highest contract given to a player previously suspended for PED’s. As David Aarsdma, then a free-agent later to also be signed by the Cardinals, said, “Nothing pisses me off more than guys that cheat and get raises for doing so.”
Peralta was signed to replace the weak hitting Pete Kozma and to provide another power bat for the Cardinals. In 2013 for the Detroit Tigers, Peralta hit .303/.358/.457 good for a 3.3 WAR in only 107 games. All of his production provided enough reason for GM John Mozeliak to validate giving Peralta a huge contract in order to fill the only supposed hole in the Cardinals’ infield.
So has Peralta panned out this season? It all depends on how you look at it. In terms of raw batting average and offensive slash lines, Peralta is hitting .239/.321/.433 which is respectable if not spectacular. It’s true Peralta isn’t putting up the same type of numbers in St. Louis as in Detroit, but that low batting average is somewhat of a mirage as Peralta is still getting on base and slugging like he normally does. Jhonny has already hit as many home runs this season as he did all of last, and he has nearly taken the same amount of walks. All of this translates to a 3.4 WAR for 2014, already surpassing his 3.3 from 2013.
So is he worth it? I say yes. No matter how you look at it, Jhonny Peralta is a better player than Pete Kozma, it’s that simple. While his batting average is down, Peralta’s total value is actually better this year already than it was last year. While many people will be quick to jump on him for “not living up to the contract,” Peralta has done exactly what the Cardinals asked of him.
Peter Bourjos came to the Cardinals in a four-player trade along with Randal Grichuk for David Freese and Fernando Salas. While many Cards’ fans were sad to Freese go, the former World Series MVP’s time had come, and he had spent all of his usefulness with the Cards. I won’t talk about Grichuk here because his short time with the Major League club didn’t amount to much, and he is still just a prospect.
Bourjos was acquired by the Cardinals with the hope of filling the gap in centerfield left by Jon Jay‘s abysmal 2013 campaign. Bourjos had hit .273/.333/.377 in limited playing time with the Angels, but he had mostly been come to be regarded for his spectacular defense. Bourjos also found himself without a home with new phenom Mike Trout on the team, so he became expendable over the winter.
Since he has been with the Cardinals, Bourjos has underperformed. He is barely hitting over the Mendoza line at .202/.268/.307 and has actually posted a negative offensive WAR. However, Bourjos has provided the defense he was touted for, posting a 0.6 dWAR in limited playing time again. Jon Jay has come into his own this season and has taken the centerfield spot from Bourjos in recent weeks.
So is he worth it? No, not at all. With this team’s struggles at second base, the Cards could have really used David Freese at third, so Matt Carpenter could move back to second. The Redbirds don’t need a fifth outfielder who can’t hit and only provides value through defense. Jon Jay is a much better hitter and provides about the same level of defense Bourjos, and Allen Craig is a much better back-up outfielder than Bourjos anyway.
Pat Neshek and Mark Ellis
Over the winter, the Cards signed both Pat Neshek and Mark Ellis to minor league contracts. As with all minor league contracts for veteran players, the Cardinals were simply taking a chance that they might still have some left in the tank and could contribute to the big club if need be. Well out of spring training, Neshek was in the bullpen and Ellis was on the bench as a backup infielder.
Obviously the Cards did not expect much from either of these players, but the level of production they’ve received is astonishing. Neshek has reinvented himself into a dominant sidearm reliever and has likely earned himself a berth in the All-Star game. In 33 innings pitched this year, Neshek has a 0.82 ERA and 32 strikeouts as opposed to four walks. He has been worth 1.5 WAR which is simply absurd for a reliever. For comparison, Aroldis Chapman, one of the most dominant relievers in the league, was only worth a 2.0 WAR for ALL of 2013. Even advanced stats love Neshek as he has a 2.10 FIP and a 446 ERA+.
Mark Ellis, however, is a completely different story. While finding a back-up middle infielder who can hit is like the Holy Grail of baseball, it is very rarely done and was most definitely not achieved in this situation. Ellis is hitting below the Mendoza line at .197 and only has six extra-base hits. Whatever production Ellis gave the Dodgers last season was left in LA as he has been a truly miserable option for the Cardinals at second.
So are they worth it? Pat Neshek? Yes times infinity. Mark Ellis? The opposite of Neshek. Overall, Pat Neshek has given this team above and beyond anything they expected from him while Ellis has underproduced way below what anyone thought. Do the two of them balance each other out in terms of free agent signings? I’ll say yes simply because of the polar opposite nature of their seasons, but Neshek’s worth is much more than anything Ellis can counter as a role player.