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


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.

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West