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Cards wrap up shopping by signing Peralta

Cards wrap up shopping by signing Peralta

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In the span of less than 48 hours over the weekend, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak completed a shopping spree that addressed the two largest items on his wish list for this winter.

And it’s not even Thanksgiving.

The Cardinals finalized and announced Sunday a four-year contract with Jhonny Peralta that installs the two-time All-Star as the offensive upgrade the club desired at shortstop.

The deal is worth $53 million, a source confirmed. At that salary, it is the largest contract the club has ever agreed to with a free agent who has not previously been a member of the team.

A formal news conference for Mozeliak to make his first public comments on the move is scheduled for today at Busch Stadium.

“One of the things we looked at when acquiring a shortstop was the amount of acquisition cost,” Mozeliak said before the club announced the deal, referencing the prospects, money, or draft pick that would be required to land a shortstop. “For us, the asking price in the trade market seemed very prohibitive. There are two top shortstop candidates in the (free agent) market, and one of the differences between them is there’s a righthanded hitter and a lefthanded hitter. We’re looking for a fit.”

Peralta visited St. Louis on Sunday to have a physical that, when passed, finalized the new contract.

BERNIE: PERALTA IS THE RIGHT MOVE

Peralta, 31, and Stephen Drew, 30, were the best shortstops available in the open market.

Peralta is a righthanded hitter, a direction the Cardinals leaned toward because every other position in the infield will be manned by a lefthanded hitter.

The Cardinals cleared the way for lefthanded-hitting Matt Carpenter to start at third base and lefthanded-hitting Kolten Wong to start at second by trading David Freese to the Angels on Friday. In that deal, the Cardinals landed center fielder Peter Bourjos.

Shortstop and center field were the chief positions the Cardinals sought to improve this offseason. Bourjos is a talented fielder, one of the best at his position in the majors.

Carpenter and Wong present defensive improvements at their positions. Advanced metrics view Peralta as an average defensive player at shortstop, below incumbent Pete Kozma when it comes to fielding.

But Peralta offers a dramatic uptick in offense. He hit .303 with 30 doubles and 11 home runs last season for the Tigers. What had the potential to be a career year in several categories fell short when Peralta was suspended for 50 games. He received the ban for his connection to baseball’s investigation into Biogenesis, an anti-aging clinic in Florida that is alleged to have provided performance-enhancing drugs to pro players. Peralta did not appeal and acknowledged making a “terrible mistake” in 2012.

The 6-foot-2 native of the Dominican Republic has the fifth-highest slugging percentage (.430) and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.762) of any shortstop since 2010.

Peralta has at least 50 extra-base hits in each of his past nine seasons. Other teams were interested in Peralta at third base, and over the life of his contract with the Cardinals he might shift to a position other than shortstop.

BERNIE BYTES: BREAKING DOWN PERALTA

Peralta adds depth and some pop to the Cardinals’ lineup, just as Bourjos adds speed and defense to the club.

The Cards have not had reservations in the past about signing players linked to performance-enhancing substances, though the club recognizes the heft of Peralta’s deal will invite questions.

Mozeliak met face-to-face with Peralta in Orlando, Fla., during this month’s general manager meetings as part of the club’s research into the player and his makeup. Peralta was welcomed back by the Tigers after his suspension and was a starter for them in the playoffs.

The Cardinals’ quest for a shortstop was prompted by the club’s lack of production from the position in 2013. Despite leading the league in runs scored, the Cards had the fourth-lowest on-base percentage (.280) and second-lowest batting average (.222) in the majors from their shortstops.

The Cardinals sought to improve the thrust of an offense that lived off a record .330 average with runners in scoring position and shortstop was the position that offered the potential for the largest bump.

The shortstop market, however, was a sellers’ feast. The Cardinals had discussions with teams such as Baltimore, Texas, and the Angels about shortstops. But in each negotiation the opponent wanted one of the Cardinals’ top-flight pitching prospects. The Cardinals’ need was not a secret, or was their chest of young arms — a coveted group that included Shelby Miller, Lance Lynn, and Carlos Martinez.

The Orioles reportedly suggested the Cardinals exchange Miller, who won 15 games and is under contract control for five more seasons, for All-Star shortstop J.J. Hardy, who is a free agent at season’s end. The Cardinals found the demands similarly high for shortstops such as Erick Aybar and Asdrubal Cabrera.

Peralta did not receive a qualifying offer from the Tigers, so signing him does not cost the Cards a draft pick. Drew was handcuffed to a draft pick by Boston. Signing the lefthanded-hitting Drew would have cost the Cardinals their first-round pick.

The deal for Peralta is more than double the previous high Mozeliak gave to a free agent from outside the organization. In 2011, Carlos Beltran signed a two-year, $26-million deal. The four-year contract is the longest deal signed to a free-agent position player by the Cardinals in more than a decade. In 2010, Matt Holliday signed a record seven-year, $120-million deal as a free agent, but he was with the Cardinals the previous season before entering free agency.

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