In an interview with MLB Network Radio, Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed that he's in the process of determining whether or not Jhonny Peralta will be welcomed back to the roster when his Biogenesis-related suspension expires (h/t James Schmehl, MLive.com).
It's a sensitive situation and one without a definitively "correct" resolution, but we'll dig a little deeper into the pros and cons.
Peralta served as Detroit's everyday shortstop prior to accepting a 50-game ban. At the time, the Tigers sat comfortably atop the AL Central, and with a 81-59 record entering Friday night's action, they're extremely likely to participate in the playoffs.
As an accomplished veteran and free-agent-to-be on a contending team, Peralta has plenty in common with Melky Cabrera, who starred for the San Francisco Giants in 2012. He flunked a midsummer drug test, and the Giants declined to utilize him that October. They won the World Series anyway.
One slight difference is that Dombrowski's troublemaker will regain eligibility with three games remaining in the regular season.
Let's consider whether that—or any other factor—can sway the longtime GM one way or the other.
Why They Should
Peralta was a .305/.361/.461 hitter with a 121 OPS+ in 2013 prior to taking his punishment from Major League Baseball. He has a .275/.332/.434 batting line (106 OPS+) since joining the Tigers in 2010, and a .268/.330/.425 line (101 OPS+) in parts of 11 MLB seasons.
Whichever way you slice it, he would be an asset to the Tigers roster, both in late September and the postseason. The 31-year-old is simply better than Don Kelly or Ramon Santiago.
Although Peralta's defense isn't graceful, do not dispute its overall effectiveness. His strengths include strong hands and a accurate throwing arm, hence six separate seasons—2006-2008 and 2011-2013—ranking among the American League's top three in fielding percentage at shortstop.
Baseball-Reference.com values him at 2.4 dWAR over the past three seasons, while FanGraphs gives him a 25.5 UZR. For comparison's sake, Jimmy Rollins of the Philadelphia Phillies has compiled -0.8 dWAR and 8.5 UZR with comparable playing time in that span.
Peralta could serve as an alternative at third base should slugger Miguel Cabrera continue to battle nagging injuries. He has 203 career starts at the position, including some as recently as 2010. Miggy will return to Detroit's lineup on Friday, but he missed four of the five previous games due to abdominal pain, not to mention a handful in late July and early August.
In James Schemhl's write-up, Dombrowski praises Peralta's work ethic and notes that the All-Star was "apologetic" about his involvement with performance-enhancing drugs.
If the front office respects him as a player and a person, why not activate him upon serving the full 50 games?
The organization has to pay Peralta during those final days of the season. Might as well get some production for it.
Why They Shouldn't
Let's say that Cabrera heads down the stretch in solid health and Jose Iglesias continues to supplement his Gold Glove-caliber defense with .300 hitting (albeit a powerless one). That would relegate Peralta to a reserve role.
Not only will he show rust after nearly two months away from the majors, but the Tigers would be asking him to leave his comfort zone and try unfamiliar tasks.
Namely, pinch hitting. Peralta has only 22 plate appearances coming off the bench (two since 2012); his .921 OPS in such situations is meaningless considering the small sample size. Requiring a longtime starter to overhaul his normal mental and physical preparation seldom benefits the team.
Future Hall of Famer Jim Thome is a terrific example. His lifetime .956 OPS was dragged down by a .730 OPS in 163 pinch-hitting opportunities.
The upshot—Peralta won't necessarily make the Tigers better given their current roster composition.
Meanwhile, allowing him to return would certainly offend fans. NPR rounded up some surveys that suggest that the majority of the baseball-loving population holds low opinions of cheaters and wants steroids out of the sport.
Perhaps the biggest question on Dombrowski's mind concerns how Peralta's presence would affect the clubhouse. Would the Tigers embrace the return of a familiar face or feel angry about being lied to? MLB.com's Jason Beck asked around in the immediate aftermath of the suspension announcement, and let's just say there wasn't consensus support.
Let him play.
Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland probably won't approach him with open arms, but how about firm handshakes for someone who has contributed so much on the field?
Winning is the Tigers' No. 1 objective, and Peralta is more likely to help in that pursuit than he is to weigh them down.