July 29, 2010
Pasting in Peralta
Optioned OF-L Michael Brantley to Columbus (Triple-A); purchased the contract of RHP Josh Tomlin from Columbus; designated 3B-R Wes Hodges for assignment. [7/27]
Traded INF-R Jhonny Peralta and cash to the Tigers for LHP Giovanni Soto; recalled INF-L Luis Valbuena from Columbus. [7/28]
CK: Moving Peralta out of the organization really forecasts what the Tribe was envisioning as far as his course within the organization. With an extremely cheap buyout (just $250,000) of his $7 million option for 2011, it looked as if their patience with Peralta had finally come to an end. His 2010 production (.257 TAv) was an improvement on the year before (.247), but essentially everything since his 2005 breakout (.300) in his age-23 season has been a disappointment. Once he moved from short over to third base, his league- and market-relative value took a major hit. Either he had to recapture that big level from '05, or he was in the process of becoming an overpriced commodity at third base, producing below-average offense for the position (the average TAv for third base is .269 this year, for example).
Since every other general manager in the game has seen that same inability to match his past, his market value probably wouldn't approach the value of that option year; if the Indians had, say, not picked up his option but offered him arbitration, they would have risked his accepting the offer, and the expectation is that he won't qualify as a Type A or Type B free agent anyway, making the idea of offering him arbitration even less plausible. Getting an interesting prospect while swallowing some or all of what was left to pay Peralta was a matter of doing him the favor of putting him on a contender while also making it plain the organization was already turning the page on its Peralta period.
So what do they do with third base in the meantime? Lonnie Chisenhall is having a merely solid season at Double-A Akron (.271/.343/.419) in what is just his age-21 season, so we can safely put his arrival well off into the future. Since Asdrubal Cabrera is back in action at short, the choices for third base in Peralta's absence include the spill-over from the already concluded battle at the keystone now that Jason Donald's the second baseman of the moment: Jayson Nix, Valbuena, and the moldering remains of Andy Marte, wondering why he's the guy in the picture while somebody else gets to be Dorian Gray on the field. A whole lot of Nix from here on out may well sum up the Indians' season.
However, there's always the possibility that they take a look at former Kansas State star Jared Goedert. Although not on the 40-man, he's earned the consideration, having hit .314/.381/.608 between Akron and Columbus this season, popping 24 homers in 391 PAs in his age-25 season. His overall walk rate is just under nine percent, and just over 10 percent on his pro career, which is adequate, not exceptional, but at least he's mashing against everybody. In the field, he can handle the hot corner. Given the decisive move towards the basement the Tribe's been stuck making this season, why not take a look?
KG: A 21st-round pick in 2009 out of Puerto Rico, 19-year-old lefty Giovani Soto has created some buzz in the Midwest League this year by putting up a 2.61 ERA in 16 starts for West Michigan while striking out 76 in 82
"He has got a nice delivery, he's super loose, and super skinny... we're talking rail-thin," said the scout of Soto; Soto is listed at 6-foot-3 and just 155 pounds. "He's at 85-88 mph [on his fastball] and throwing four pitches with a curve, slider, and change-none of them are really good right now, but you can't eliminate any of them, either. I hate projecting velocity, but this is the kind of guy you look for when doing it."
Acquired INF-R Jhonny Peralta and cash from the Indians for LHP Giovanni Soto; outrighted RHP Casey Fien to Toledo (Triple-A). [7/28]
Optioned INF-R Scott Sizemore to Toledo. [7/29]
CK: For a player at a price the Indians were willing to pay in the course of making him go away, Peralta's a decent moving part with which to patch up the Tigers' shredded infield picture. Only giving up an interesting arm while taking on a young veteran at low cost makes this a nice, alert addition by Dave Dombrowski. It won't keep them in the AL Central race of itself, but having long since decided to make something of this season's last spin with the leftover expenses from their 2006 pennant, you can admire the decision to keep playing until the last trick is turned.
So what of the latest Kittie in the litter? While Peralta's .257 TAv this season isn't a major, earth-shattering improvement on what they could get from Don Kelly or Scott Sizemore at third base, even setting aside that this is the reliably unreliable Peralta we're talking about they're more sure of seeing production around that level from him than they can be certain of the even more modest ambitions they might have had for Sizemore (.247 projected pre-season) or Kelly (.240).
So it should be an automatic offensive upgrade. It's also a solution that, barring some bit of Leylandian pique because he doesn't like the cut of Peralta's jib, should lock up one lineup slot until Brandon Inge comes back from the DL, which given the morass of lineup possibilities they had been confronted with, makes for one small corner of Jim Leyland's life getting easier. Also, for what perhaps will be especially appreciated in any Inge replacement, various defensive metrics suggest that Peralta has become a good defender at the hot corner, taking advantage of a still-strong arm while showing solid anticipation for starting double plays from third. He's also a modest asset on the bases.
That said, is Peralta capable of outperforming his latest frustrating campaign at the plate? To suggest it would be investing a lot of hope in the power of leaving Cleveland. Unfortunately, his power numbers had already dropped last season before this, especially as far as flagging rate of home runs per fly ball. Although he's repeating that particular failure and in his age-28 season, you can hope just getting out of Cleveland might help, especially since he was also hitting for a career-low BABIP, just .284 against a career rate of .316. Given that Peralta's relatively young, you can hope for but not bet on a turnaround, especially since Comerica Park might be his least-favorite venue on his career (.243/.290/.365 career in 243 PAs) since the Metrodome came off the road schedule.
Four weeks from now, if Inge is back in action, then the Tigers will have the additional virtue of being able to ponder where else they can employ Peralta. At shortstop, behind more strikeout/fly-ball-oriented starters like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer? By the time Inge comes back, Carlos Guillen should long since be back from the DL, so entertaining any idea of putting Peralta at second in a game for the first time in his career doesn't seem likely, but if his bat comes around as a result of his liberation from Cleveland, maybe even some DH at-bats will come his way.
From a payroll position, however much of Peralta's pay the Tribe's picking up, this is a rental, pure and simple. Peralta's option for 2011 is for $7 million, and is an anachronism left over from 2006, the heady days when people thought he'd crank out more campaigns like 2005, and when a permanently expanding economy seemed certain. The fact that he can be bought out for just $250,000 makes this a relatively easy call to make-if he makes a great impression, here or anywhere, he'll be available for less than $7 million this winter.
Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus.