When the Biogenesis sanctions were handed down in August, the 50-game suspensions were expected to negatively impact the impending trips to free agency for both the Texas Rangers' Nelson Cruz and the Detroit Tigers' Jhonny Peralta.
Three months later, all is forgiven, if not forgotten, around two of the more powerful free agent hitters on the market.
As the hot stove burns, expect to hear more teams, money and years associated with free-agent contracts for both Cruz and Peralta. In a shift that is sure to anger some baseball purists, the past involvement with performance-enhancing drugs does not seem to be ruining, or even greatly impacting, the earning power for either player on the open market.
If you're incapable of talking about Cruz and Peralta as free agents without couching it in Biogenesis, you may be overly-obsessed.— Craig Calcaterra (@craigcalcaterra) November 13, 2013
According to CBS Sports' Jon Heyman, Nelson Cruz (four-year, $64 million contract projection) and Jhonny Peralta (two-year, $18 million contract projection) are both poised to receive long-term offers on par with their value on the field. Those sentiments were echoed by Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors when he predicted Cruz to garner a three-year deal and Peralta to take home over $30 million in a contract.
Of course, until the free-agent period is complete, the jury is still out on how the industry views the Biogenesis bunch. Yet, thus far, the detriment to missing 50 games of meaningful baseball isn't there for baseball fans to see. As teams in dire need of offense scour the free-agent and trade market, future value trumps past transgressions.
Simply put, if teams like the Mets or Cardinals choose to ignore Peralta's suspension and project him as a strong contributor for the next two or three seasons, it's hard to believe that Biogenesis will factor into their winter plans. The same can be said if teams like the Royals or Mariners view Cruz as a difference maker in the middle of the lineup.
Unlike fans, baseball executives understand the reality of performance-enhancing drugs in the landscape of professional sports. Despite the great lengths that Major League Baseball has gone to clean the game up in recent years, cheaters will exist. Before long, the next scandal akin to Biogenesis or BALCO will dominate the 24/7 news cycle of the sport. Punishment needs to exist for players caught, but undervaluing or ignoring their ability is ludicrous, especially in a sport starved for power.
Yes, Peralta and Cruz will find work, along with copious amounts of cash, because they provide power, relative to their respective positions, that can't solely be the work of Biogenesis.
We'll start with Nelson Cruz. While he has his defensive flaws, the power is unmistakable. In 2013, only 13 players hit at least 30 home runs. Prior to accepting a 50-game ban from Major League Baseball, Cruz had crushed 27 home runs in just 413 at-bats for Texas. If he wasn't suspended, Cruz would have cruised past 30 home runs, and likely joined Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera as the only 40-plus home run hitters in baseball.
Before you lend the credit solely to Biogenesis, consider this: Since 2009, Cruz has hit 135 home runs, good for sixth among all outfielders in baseball. Furthermore, his ISO (isolated slugging percentage) during that time is a robust .239, fourth best among all outfielders in the sport. Only Carlos Gonzalez, Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista have profiled as better raw power-hitting outfielders over the last five years.
Of course, Jhonny Peralta won't be confused with Nelson Cruz in a home run derby anytime soon, but don't discount the power that he brings to the shortstop position. As New York Daily News columnist Bill Madden pointed out last week, Peralta would potentially give the New York Mets the most power they've ever had from the shortstop position. When a player is available that brings that kind of transcendent skill to a franchise, attention is warranted.
Since becoming a full-time player in 2005, Peralta has launched 152 home runs for Cleveland and Detroit. Averaging 17 long balls per season may not seem like much compared to a slugger like Cruz, but among shortstops, it's quite the feat. Over that span, only three shortstops in baseball have surpassed Peralta's total home run output.
Along with power, Peralta has good October fortune on his side. Due to the timing of the Biogenesis announcement, all offenders (except Alex Rodriguez) missed the final chunk of the regular season, but had enough time to be reinstated for a postseason run. In Texas, Cruz and the Rangers didn't advance past a one-game playoff with Tampa. Meanwhile, Peralta's Tigers were in the spotlight through Game 6 of the ALCS, allowing the 31-year-old shortstop to rake (.898 OPS) on the big stage.
It's natural to expect some hesitation, along with extra due diligence, on each of these tainted performers, but don't be surprised if their respective suitors continue to grow as the hot stove season heats up. When the 2014 season opens up, the powerful bats of Peralta and Cruz will be the story, not their checkered association with the now-defunct Miami-based clinic.