Fresh off being swept by the Cubs at Wrigley Field over the weekend, the Cardinals are sputtering. Outside of Sunday’s 7-6 slugfest loss, the offense has failed to score more than four runs in a game since May 24th, forcing the pitching to carry the load for any prospective wins.
As the Cardinals begin a four-game series in Cincinnati Monday, they’re sitting in third place in the NL Central at 26-28. Though St. Louis has shown earlier in the season the ability to go on a prolonged winning streak to counteract lengthy stretches of losing, the natives are growing restless.
Plenty of games remain, but if the first third of the season has shown anything, it’s that the Cardinals have a legitimate need for a middle-of-the-order bat. The blueprint for the 2017 offense has not been executed effectively. When the Cardinals sacrificed power for athleticism with their offseason roster moves, it was with the assumption that the relied-upon bats (Fowler, Carpenter, Piscotty, etc.) would produce near the levels they had in the past.
As it turns out, many of them have underperformed–hence, a losing ball club.
One player the Cardinals insisted all winter would be relied upon–but has been a major disappointment thus far–is Jhonny Peralta. In fact, it would be difficult for him to have been any worse than he’s been through the first 54 games of the season.
For one, Peralta has spent a decent chunk of the season’s first two months on the disabled list with an upper respiratory issue. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, that stretch was his most productive of the season.
When he’s been on the field, Peralta has made the Cardinals worse. Beyond his dreadful .189/.246/.189 batting line, Peralta has shown limited defensive range at third base. According to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Peralta has expressed reluctance to learn first base. That's a pretty fascinating stance for a player with a negative WAR no matter which service’s stats you check; owed $10 million for the 2017 season, Peralta is costing the Cardinals wins.
From an expectation standpoint, Peralta’s woes are even more disappointing, considering the Cardinals anticipated him as the starting third baseman coming into the season. Instead, Peralta has conceded that role to Jedd Gyorko–based on performance.
Gyorko ranks in the top 20 in the National League in OPS. Peralta hasn’t registered an extra-base hit or an RBI all season. The hot corner should be one of the few spots on the diamond Mike Matheny doesn’t even have to think about when filling out his lineup card.
John Mozeliak, however, should be thinking plenty about a certain decision relating to Peralta: his unconditional release.
The Cardinals gave Peralta another chance to prove himself after his DL stint–his performance has not improved. There no doubt exists some frustration from the general manager with the way the season has gone for Peralta; when constructing his club’s roster in the offseason, Mozeliak was counting on a healthy Peralta to regain his power and display better defense at third. It hasn’t happened.
But chasing a bad outcome by making another bad decision is a losing way to manage–be it a game or a roster. Disappointment at the seemingly sound decision to consider Peralta an important part of the team coming into the year should not get in the way of Mozeliak’s willingness to dump him now that things have gone south.
The time for a decision could be coming soon. With Kolten Wong scheduled to begin a rehab assignment in Peoria, he could be set to return to the major league roster as early as Friday, according to Derrick Goold. When Wong returns, St. Louis could send down an arm from its eight-man bullpen–but Mozeliak has shown total reluctance to do that thus far. The other option for a demotion is Paul DeJong, who was recalled when Wong went on the DL back in May.
DeJong has enjoyed a solid start to his big-league career, posting a .296/.296/.481 batting line in 27 plate appearances. Obviously, those stats at the plate are far better than what Peralta has offered this year. DeJong’s ability to move around the infield–he can play second, third, or shortstop–makes him a valuable commodity off the bench. Are the Cardinals a better team with DeJong than they are with Peralta? If so, Peralta’s time with the club should come to an end when Wong returns.
Eating his kind of money is always going to sting, but the Cardinals are beyond the point this season where they can afford to prioritize finances over performance. Like with Jonathan Broxton, if Mozeliak truly believes a roster without Peralta gives the Cardinals a better chance to win games, he has to be willing to move on.
When St. Louis signed Peralta as a free agent for 2014, there was always a chance he would decline considerably by the fourth year of the contract in 2017.
That certainly seems to be the case–and it’s time for the Cardinals to pull the trigger on the next move to revamp their struggling roster.