You can’t talk about Major League Baseball’s financials these days without hearing about how much money is flowing into the sport. New television contracts are everywhere. MLB Advanced Media is one of the most valuable technology companies in the world. The Dodgers ownership group has their own printing press, apparently. Baseball is rolling in cash, and everyone involved with the sport is getting rich.
Except for Joel Peralta. If he pays attention to any of this stuff, he has to be wondering why his own personal experience is so different than everyone else’s.
In 2010, Joel Peralta threw 49 excellent innings for the Nationals, posting a 50/76/86 ERA-/FIP-/xFIP- line thanks to his excellent command of the strike zone. For his efforts, he was non-tendered, as the Nationals decided they didn’t want to give him a raise that a pitcher with those numbers would get in arbitration. The Rays eventually signed him for $925,000, or about $500K more than the league minimum.
Since joining the Rays, Peralta has thrown 135 innings, with his minus stats lining up nicely – 84 ERA-/83 FIP-/87 xFIP-. His fly ball tendencies finally turned into a small home run issue, but his ability to limit walks and rack up strikeouts allowed him to be a good reliever even while putting the ball in the air all the time. While there is understandable skepticism about putting homer prone pitchers in the game with one run leads, he has basically the same skillset as Huston Street, and he’s had no problems collecting big paychecks throughout the years.
Of course, Street is a Capital-C Closer, while Peralta is a middle reliever, and there are known price differences that go along with those two roles. Even in an expected inflationary market, a 37-year-old middle reliever with a home run problem wasn’t going to land a huge contract, but he could have looked at what Frank Francisco got from the Mets last winter and assumed that 2/12 shouldn’t be completely out of reach. Francisco is basically Peralta with twice as many walks, and while he had experience as a closer, he also lost those jobs and wasn’t exactly a proven ninth inning guy.
Instead, early reports suggest that Peralta got exactly half of Francisco’s deal, signing for $3 million per year for the next two years with a third year team option that could push the total value all the way up to $8.5 million if its exercised. That’s basically what Brandon League is going to earn in the first year of his three year deal with the Dodgers, and while he’s younger, it’s not clear that he’s actually better.
Maybe Peralta just really likes the Rays, and he took what they were able to give him in order to avoid changing addresses and adjusting to life in a new town. It is called a “home town discount” for a reason, after all, and Peralta wouldn’t be the first player to trade a little cash for some extra stability.
Of course, there’s also another possibility, and one that looks more possible with each non-Dodger re-signing over the last week. After seeing Jake Peavy (2/29), David Ortiz (2/26), Hisashi Iwakuma (2/14), Bartolo Colon (1/3), and now Peralta sign short term deals at reasonable (or even bargain) AAVs — alongside the decisions to not make qualifying offers to Torii Hunter, Edwin Jackson, Angel Pagan, and Mike Napoli — the early returns aren’t really playing along with the runaway inflation idea. Or, at the least, the inflation isn’t trickling down to the tier of player who are willing to re-sign early before testing the market.
Obviously, it’s way too early to know what prices are going to look like over the rest of the winter. In the past, though, bargains weren’t usually found until January or February, as teams had to pick through the leftovers and to gain some leverage and drive price down. So far, we’ve seen a half dozen contracts signed with players who could have been free agents, and all but one appear to be pretty team friendly.
The Rays have to be pretty happy with how this shook out. They get a quality reliever at a nice price, and because they have Fernando Rodney and Jake McGee to share the high leverage relief work, they can limit Peralta’s appearances in one run leads if his home run problem worsens. For Peralta, he gets the first multi-year contract of his career, so perhaps he’s happy with this result as well. Given what other relievers have gotten over the last few years — and how all the talk heading into the winter is that owners are currently black truffles wrapped in gold from their forks made of rhodium — Peralta might have ended up leaving money on the table. Or maybe there just isn’t as much money available for these kinds of players as we’ve been led to believe.