The case for Jhonny Peralta

Mets fans: Is Jhonny Peralta your shortstop of the future? AP Photo/Alan Diaz

One of the “good” things about being a “bad” team heading into the offseason is it’s easy to find ways to improve. Finding an upgrade over a 4-A player is a lot easier than improving on an average major league player, and the Mets were unfortunate enough to employ more of the former than most teams did in 2013.

Exhibit A: Mets shortstops were awful, and it’s likely the club will make some sort of effort to improve the position this winter. While some folks have floated the idea of a blockbuster trade for Troy Tulowitzki, there is one player out there who is far more realistic and should be the Mets’ No. 1 free-agent target this winter: Jhonny Peralta.

It’s hard to overstate how bad the Mets’ shortstops were this year, they “hit” .232/.296/.302 and were worth -0.1 wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. In other words, they were worse than your typical Triple-A shortstop, which isn’t surprising, because pretty much any evaluator would tell you that Omar Quintanilla and Ruben Tejada are Triple-A quality. (Only the Cardinals, Yankees, Astros and Marlins got less from shortstops.)

Peralta, on the other hand, hit .303/.358/.457 for the Tigers this year and was worth 3.6 WAR, per FanGraphs, which ranked sixth in all of baseball despite serving a 50-game suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis scandal.

“But he’s a juicer!” I’m sure some of you will say. But that could actually work to the Mets’ advantage. That stigma will probably drive his value down a bit, which means there will be fewer bidders for his services. Furthermore, Peralta, 31, has hit .278/.334/.438 over the past three seasons, so we know he’s not a fluke.

And let’s not forget Marlon Byrd, arguably the best free-agent signing of the Sandy Alderson era, was coming off of a PED suspension when the Mets signed him last year. So if you were cheering for Byrd when he was having his career year in orange and blue, it’s hard to be outraged by the idea of Peralta.

Peralta played left field in Game 3 of the ALDS for the Tigers in deference to Jose Iglesias, but all advanced metrics suggest that Peralta is actually a decent defensive shortstop, with both DRS and UZR rating him as at least average over the last three seasons. So even if he’s a little thicker around the middle than your typical shortstop, advanced metrics suggest he can hold his own.

The presence of Iglesias adds another element to Peralta’s appeal as a free agent. It seems like the Tigers have settled on the youngster as their shortstop of the future because of his incredible defense, and it’s obvious that Miguel Cabrera is locked in at third. Therefore, it’s extremely unlikely the Tigers will give Peralta a qualifying offer, meaning the Mets wouldn’t have to sacrifice a second-round draft pick to sign him.

Adam Rubin wrote the other day about the Mets trying to mimic the Red Sox’s model of a year ago by shopping for mid-level free agents who won’t cost them draft picks. No potential free-agent signing embodies that mindset more than Peralta. He’s good, he’s not that old, his perceived value is low and he would represent an enormous upgrade. If the Mets want to improve quickly, he’s a no-brainer.