Last month, Jhonny Peralta, the starting shortstop for the Detroit Tigers, agreed to accept a fifty-game suspension because of his connection to the Biogenesis Clinic. That suspension is nearly over, and he could return to the team on September 27, which is the date of the first game of the Tigers’ final regular season series, coincidentally taking place in Miami.
The decision whether to bring Peralta back to the team belongs to the team, and general manager Dave Dombrowski in particular. The question is whether they should allow him back.
First, is there precedent for such a return? While suspended players obviously return to baseball after their suspensions and often return to the same team, the question here is more about the return of a player suspended in the second half of the season to a playoff-contending team right when the playoffs begin. The San Francisco Giants, the team that beat the Tigers last year in the World Series, were faced with this question last season. They chose not to allow Melky Cabrera to return to their team, and they obviously did just fine without him. People tended to approve of this decision last year, and if broader baseball precedent matters to you, this might give you a reason to oppose Peralta’s return this season.
Second, what about Tigers-focused baseball concerns and interests? These probably cut both ways. Under the terms of Peralta’s suspension, he has not been able to play in the team’s minor-league system or otherwise work out with the club. Even if he’s maintained a strict fitness regimen during his suspension, missing fifty games means that he will not be able to simply show up and resume as if he had not missed those games. He will need time to get up to speed. Recent years (e.g., the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals) have taught that momentum is important in the playoffs. This is not the time to work a starting infielder back into form. There are too few playoff games, and each game is too important to not start the best lineup available. (Note also that the minor league season is over.) On the other hand, Peralta has been a very important player for the Tigers this season. By multiple measures, he has been the team’s second-best hitter this season, and the team’s winning percentage fell from .629 to .569 after his suspension. Yes, the Tigers found a promising defensive replacement in Jose Iglesias, but Peralta’s an above-average defender and a much better hitter, and Iglesias now is suffering from bilateral shin splints. The question isn’t whether Peralta should replace Iglesias anyway, it’s whether he’s a better option than any of the team’s other reserves, and that’s an easy question to answer. This is a team with a lot of star power, but beyond its regular starters, the talent falls off sharply.
Third, there is what people are referring to as a moral or ethical component, and it applies both inside and outside the locker room. On the inside, players like Max Scherzer have been vocal public opponents of PED users. Even if players haven’t been outspoken on the topic, they might be upset with Peralta because he made a decision that hurt the team. Would his return impair clubhouse chemistry? (Indicators are that it would not.) The fan and public relations perspective is less important, but management will consider it. I had a tough time knowing what to think and how to feel about Peralta’s suspension, but what is clear now is that, whatever the crime, Peralta did his time. He did not receive a lifetime ban. He did receive a fifty-game suspension, and he will have served that entire suspension. That should be enough for reasonable fans on all sides of the PED discussion.
The answer here is that Peralta should return to this team, at least initially as a bench player, for the playoffs, because he is better than all available alternative reserve players, and because his replacement is dealing with an injury. Peralta’s return should be conditioned on 1) his physical fitness, which should be easy to evaluate, and 2) the players’ openness to his return, which Dombrowsky must take steps to gauge as a part of his decision-making process.
Peralta reportedly joined the team yesterday for his first permitted workouts, as allowed under the terms of his suspension. Dombrowsky stated that, if Peralta returns, it will not be as the starting shortstop, but that he would work out at “multiple positions.” Peralta addressed the media yesterday as well:
- I think I say what I say before. I apologize to everybody. I think everybody understands. We make mistakes sometimes. We’re human. It’s happened to a lot of people.
- Right now, what happened before, I’m angry with myself. I don’t know how to explain it, the situation that happened, but I’m kind of mad at myself.
- I know every guy on the team. I know the first step that I make into the clubhouse, I know they’re going to be happy. Every guy in the clubhouse, they’re really friendly. I think when we’re together, we’re like brothers, so I know they’re going to be happy.
- I think the Tigers fans, they know what’s going on. They already know what happened with everything. I think for what I do in Detroit, I think the fans are going to be OK. I think they appreciated what I did before and everything and tried to back the team. I think the fans in Detroit will be the fans.
Crime & Punishment – 8/7
Trader Jose(s) – 7/31
100 days of summer run distribution – 7/25
Are the Tigers the unluckiest team in baseball? – 6/28
Forget what you know – 6/25
History and Revision – 6/12
Tigers beat Braves 7-4 as part of series sweep of visiting Atlanta – 5/7
April in the D – 4/26
Jet Set (Sigh?) – 4/23
Run distribution, science, and the likelihood of a Detroit comeback – 4/15
WSJ throws a wet newspaper on the Tigers’ 2013 chances – 4/3
A Tiger is a Tiger is a Tiger – 3/29
The Departed – 3/14