Shortstop will be eligible to return before final series of Tigers' regular season
CLEVELAND -- The fallout from Major League Baseball's Biogenesis investigation that began in Miami and dominated headlines in New York hit Detroit and the American League Central race on Monday. In the process, it put Jhonny Peralta's season -- and his future with the Tigers -- into serious question.
On Monday, MLB announced 50-game suspensions for 13 players, including Peralta, stemming from their involvement with Biogenesis, a Miami-area clinic that allegedly provided players with human growth hormone and other performance-enhancing substances. Peralta has agreed not to appeal the suspension and will begin serving it starting with Monday night's series opener against the second-place Indians. Peralta's All-Star season, including a .305 average, 29 doubles, 11 home runs and 54 RBIs, is on hold.
The Tigers issued a statement shortly after MLB's announcement:
"We recognize the suspension of Jhonny Peralta for violating Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program as a measure taken in the best interest of the game. The Detroit Tigers continue to fully support Major League Baseball's policy and its efforts to eliminate performance enhancing drugs from our game. Per the protocol outlined by Major League Baseball's collective bargaining agreement, the Tigers' organization will provide no further comment on Peralta's suspension."
By not appealing his suspension, Peralta will complete the ban with three games to go in the regular season -- in time for Detroit's series against the Marlins from Sept. 27-29 -- and be eligible for the postseason roster. Whether the Tigers' front office or the team's players want him back, or whether Peralta has played his final game in a Detroit uniform, will be a question that follows the club in the coming weeks.
"That's not something we're going to tackle at this point," team president/general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We don't have to make that decision. That's way down the road. We'll focus on what we need to do, which is to win a ballgame today."
Beyond his acceptance of the suspension, Peralta accepted responsibility for his actions in a statement released by the team minutes after the suspensions were announced:
"In spring of 2012, I made a terrible mistake that I deeply regret. I apologize to everyone that I have hurt as a result of my mistake, including my teammates, the Tigers' organization, the great fans in Detroit, Major League Baseball, and my family. I take full responsibility for my actions, have no excuses for my lapse in judgment and I accept my suspension.
"I love the fans, my teammates and this organization and my greatest punishment is knowing that I have let so many good people down. I promise to do everything possible to try and earn back the respect that I have lost."
That contrasted the statement Peralta issued through his attorney, Barry Boss, just before Spring Training.
"I have never used performance-enhancing drugs. Period," the statement read. "Anybody who says otherwise is lying."
Peralta's teammates and bosses, while disappointed in his actions and his initial reaction then, welcomed his reaction now.
"He took ownership of what happened," Tigers All-Star right-hander Max Scherzer said. "He showed complete ownership and that's something that I think is good for the game."
MLB on Monday suspended 13 players as a result of the league's Biogenesis investigation. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez received the stiffest penalty -- a 211-game ban without pay through the end of the 2014 regular season. Rodriguez, 38, has appealed the suspension, which is to begin Thursday. His case will be heard by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz. Rodriguez's discipline, MLB said in its written announcement, is based on his use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including testosterone and human growth hormone, over the course of multiple years. Rodriguez's discipline under the basic agreement is for attempting to cover up his violations of the program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to "obstruct and frustrate" the investigation.
The other players who were handed 50-game suspensions include Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Mariners catcher Jesus Montero, Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera, Yankees catcher Francisco Cervelli, Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo and recently demoted Mets utility man Jordany Valdespin. Minor Leaguers Fernando Martinez, Jordan Norberto, Fautino de los Santos, Cesar Puello and Sergio Escalona were also suspended.
For Peralta, Monday's announcement adds to a season of intrigue that began with an early-February Sports Illustrated report stating that his name appeared in records from Biogenesis. No substances were reportedly listed alongside Peralta's name in the records, and the Miami New Times omitted his name from its initial report on the clinic and its records. Peralta had worked out in South Florida at times over the past couple of years, and he was planning on making his offseason home there, but little more was known.
Peralta's 50-game suspension fits that of a first-time offender under MLB's Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. A positive test is not required for suspension under terms of the program negotiated between MLB and the Players Association.
Dombrowski summarized the mixed emotions going on throughout the organization. He talked with Peralta before the game on Sunday and described Peralta as "apologetic, very remorseful, very sorry."
"He's a really good person that has conducted himself well and a key performer for our club, yet he's done something that no one can condone," Dombrowski said. "He has to pay a price for it, and we support that totally. Our organization is going to move on from there."
Peralta becomes the second Tigers player on the Major League roster to be suspended under the program. Infielder Neifi Perez was suspended twice in 2007 for banned stimulants -- once for 25 games, then for 80 games.
Former Tigers Minor League pitcher Cesar Carrillo, a journeyman signed into the organization in 2012, was the first player disciplined out of the investigation, receiving a 100-game suspension in March. That suspension ended last week, at which point the Tigers released him.
Others received longer suspensions than Peralta, notably Ryan Braun's 65-game suspension last month. None, however, played as significant of a role on a division-leading team this season as Peralta, who put together his second All-Star season in three years while the investigation unfolded.
Peralta's .822 on-base plus slugging percentage and 29 doubles lead all Major League shortstops, his .305 batting average ranks second and his 54 RBIs are third. He made his second AL All-Star team in three years as a reserve shortstop, and his rebound from a disappointing 2012 season has helped the Tigers stretch out the run production through their lineup.
Replacing that production will be one of the bigger challenges the Tigers face down the stretch of a division race that remains close. The suspension came down hours before the Tigers began a four-game series against the Indians, who were just three games out of first place.
The Tigers made their move to replace Peralta at shortstop before they knew officially that he would be suspended. As the investigation continued toward the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, Detroit acquired slick-fielding youngster Jose Iglesias from Boston in a three-team trade. Avisail Garcia, Detroit's five-tool outfield prospect and late-season hero last fall, went to the White Sox in the deal, while Brayan Villarreal went to the Red Sox.
Iglesias made his impression on the Tigers immediately, filling in at third base for injured Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera this past weekend and making several standout defensive plays at the hot corner. Now, the 23-year-old Iglesias becomes Detroit's everyday shortstop for the foreseeable future.
"We know he can play shortstop," Dombrowski said. "It'll change the look of our ballclub a little bit, but we'll move on and we have a chance to win a world championship and that's what our ultimate goal is."
Said Iglesias: "That's my natural position. I'm really happy to help this team keep winning."
How much Iglesias' arrival played into Peralta's decision not to appeal his suspension is unclear. Once the Tigers made the trade, Peralta's future in Detroit took on doubt, despite his production as a 31-year-old in a contract year.
By serving the suspension now, Peralta can hit the free-agent market this year without having to miss games next season, and he could yet play a major role in Detroit's postseason drive. He faces two major challenges to that, though.
The first challenge is getting himself back into game shape in time. By rule, Peralta can work out with the team and take part in batting practice before the gates open before a game, though it seems doubtful he'll stick around with the team while he's suspended. It's believed Peralta is in Cleveland, where he still owns a home from his days playing for the Indians, but it wasn't immediately known whether he would be at Progressive Field later Monday.
Peralta can begin a Minor League rehab assignment 10 days before his suspension ends, but the Minor League seasons will be over by then. His only on-field outlet in the organization will be the Tigers' fall instructional league.
The second major obstacle might be within the clubhouse. When Braun was suspended last month, Scherzer, the Tigers' All-Star pitcher and player representative argued strongly that the punishment wasn't enough and that he would support contracts being voided.
Scherzer, the team's alternate representative to the Players Association, reiterated Monday he would support tougher punishments for those to break the rules.
"As players as a whole, we're tired of cheating," Scherzer said. "We're tired of guys who blatantly try to break the system. That's something that we have to find a way to shore up so this doesn't happen again, because the more days we have like this, the worse it is for our game and the worse it is for our fans. It only drives fans away. So as players, we have to find a way so the reward isn't there anymore and that we can always talk about baseball and not talk about PEDs and other things like this."
When the Giants swept the Tigers in the World Series last October, San Francisco's notable absence was Melky Cabrera, who was named last year's All-Star Game Most Valuable Player and received a 50-game suspension last August after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone. His suspension ended following the National League Division Series, but the Giants announced in September they wouldn't bring him back for the NL Championship Series or beyond.
Peralta's situation is different, yet the Tigers could face a similar dilemma.
"Sometimes people make bad decisions," Torii Hunter said. "He's a great teammate. We love him. He's funny, very funny. But I hate that this has happened, and he's going to deal with it."