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Let’s pump the brakes on the “PED use got Jhonny Peralta his big deal” talk

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With a respectful nod to Ken Rosenthal, our own Bill Baer and the players who have taken to Twitter in the past couple of days to talk about Jhonny Peralta, may I ask why everyone seems to think that Peralta’s new contract represents some sort of problem with the drug penalty system in baseball and the incentives that flow therefrom? Because from where I’m sitting, it’s way more complicated than that.

I get the superficial appeal of the argument that goes “Peralta got busted for PEDs and then he gets a four-year, $52 million deal. What’s up with that?!” But that argument totally ignores the nature of the current free agent market to begin with.

Here’s a shocking idea: Jhonny Peralta got a big crazy free agent contract, not because he used PEDs, thereby messing up the incentive system, but because everyone in free agency is getting a big crazy free agent contract these days.

Those shaking their heads at Peralta say things like “clearly the current drug penalties are not hurting players’ market value.” But if you swap in phrases like “being hurt,” “being average” or “severely underperforming expectations” for “the current drug penalties” it explains current reality too. Dan Haren is coming off two injury-plagued and often ineffective years and he got $10 million. Jason Vargas got four-years, $32 million as a back-of-the-rotation starter. Tim Hudson has been pretty bad and got two-years, $23 million. Carlos Ruiz got three-years, $26 million. Why isn’t anyone talking about how their deals are confounding the incentive system that’s supposed to be in place?

Probably because they’re not. They’re getting what the market — currently flush with billions of dollars in new broadcast dollars and vanishingly small ways for teams to spend money on amateur and international signings — allows. Look around at the crop of shortstop talent in Major League Baseball at the moment and tell me that talent isn’t hard to come by. Then tell me that Peralta’s deal has more to do with him being a PED user than him simply being a good shortstop in a weak shortstop market who happened to hit free agency at the right time.

The fact that a team — a smart team, by the way — is spending serious money on Jhonny Peralta right now is because he’s in the market. Increase the ban to 100 games? Sure, maybe that would work for a guy whose ban coincided with his free agency, but it doesn’t always, or even often, work that way. Say a guy gets a ban in the second year of his three year deal, comes back in year three and plays well prior to becoming a free agent. Say a player tests positive in the spring of his walk year, serves his 100 games and then comes back in late July and lights it up just before free agency. You think those guys are not going to get paid the following offseason? Of course they are. Because they’ll be active players with marketable skills and teams like to give those guys lots of money.

The only way totally eliminate the idea of guys who take PEDs from later getting paid is to give permanent bans for first offenses. But of course that’s crazy. It’d be an ultra-extreme response to a problem that no one has demonstrated calls for such a solution and which would likely end the careers of some players based on false positives or inadvertent ingestion of PEDs. And no one who grouses about Jhonny Peralta allegedly screwing with the incentive system would ever seriously make that argument, would they? I seriously doubt it.

Peralta got paid because he’s a good player at a position with scant available talent in a market that is paying through the nose for even ordinary talent. If that’s troublesome to you, you have a lot of things to worry about besides whether 50-game suspensions are sufficient to deter PED use.

Brandon Belt signs $6.2 million deal, avoiding arbitration with Giants

Brandon Belt
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In a last-second compromise before a scheduled heading today, first baseman Brandon Belt and the Giants have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $6.2 million deal.

Belt requested $7.5 million and the Giants countered at $5.3 million, so they’ve settled slightly on the team-friendly side of the midpoint. Belt will be arbitration eligible again next season for the final time before hitting the open market as a free agent.

He’s coming off a very good season in which he hit .280 with 18 homers and an .834 OPS in 137 games and Belt has a lifetime .803 OPS through age 27, making him one of MLB’s most underrated all-around first baseman.

Orioles sign ex-Padres reliever Dale Thayer

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Right-hander Dale Thayer and the Orioles have agreed to a minor-league contract that includes an invitation to spring training.

Thayer had a rough 2015 season for the Padres, posting a 4.06 ERA and spending time in the minors, but he was a solid part of San Diego’s bullpen from 2012-2014 with a combined 3.02 ERA and 173/50 K/BB ratio in 188 innings.

At age 35 there’s no guarantee that Thayer will look good enough to claim a spot on the Opening Day roster, but he’s got a strong chance to wind up pitching middle relief for Baltimore.

Phillies acquire Taylor Featherston from Angels

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Taylor Featherston, who was designated for assignment by the Angels last week, has been traded to the Phillies for a player to be named later or cash.

Featherston stayed in the majors with the Angels for all of last season due to being a Rule 5 pick from the Rockies organization, but the 25-year-old infielder hit just .162 in 169 plate appearances.

He’s been much better in the minors, but nothing about his track record there screams quality regular and the Phillies are likely viewing him as a defense-first bench option for now.

Keith Law: The Braves have the best farm system in baseball

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Flags fly forever! Hooray for The Process championship!

Ah, sorry. This is about as much rooting as I’ll get to do this year, so cut me some slack.

This is the week when ESPN’s Keith Law releases his prospect and farm system rankings. He kicks off his content this week with a top-to-bottom ranking of all 30 farm systems. As a rule he limits his analysis to players who are currently in the minors and who have not yet exhausted their rookie of the year eligibility. The top system: the Atlanta Braves. The bottom: the Los Angeles Angels, about whom Law says “I’ve been doing these rankings for eight years now, and this is by far the worst system I’ve ever seen.” Enjoy Mike Trout, though, you guys.

If you want to know the reasons and the rankings of everyone in between you’ll have to get an ESPN Insider subscription. Sorry, I know everyone hates to pay for content on the Internet, but Keith and others who do this kind of work put a lot of damn work into it and this is what pays their bills. I typically don’t like to pay for content myself, but I do pay for an ESPN Insider subscription. It’s worth it for Law’s work alone. And though he drives me crazy sometimes, Buster Olney’s daily column/notes thing is also worth the money over the course of the year.