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Cardinals fill another need with Peralta signing

Veteran lands four-year contract, provides offensive upgrade at shortstop

Still two weeks away from the Winter Meetings, the Cardinals weren't expecting to have already checked the two biggest items off their offseason wish list -- center field and shortstop.

The second piece of the puzzle that fit was shortstop Jhonny Peralta, who was signed to a four-year contract on Sunday.

"Much faster than we even anticipated," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said on Monday. "We were looking at sort of exhausting all of these different markets to make sure that we were going to make the right decisions."

Financial terms were not revealed, but multiple reports said the deal is worth $52 million. Talks first began at the General Managers Meetings earlier this month, but accelerated to serious negotiations quickly on Friday night and Saturday morning.

St. Louis acquired center fielder Peter Bourjos from the Angels on Friday for third baseman David Freese.

"There are still some opportunities for us over the next six, seven weeks as we progress to the Winter Meetings," Mozeliak said. "But, if the clock stopped today, we'd be pretty happy with our club."

Peralta, 31, hit .303/.358/.457 for the Tigers last season, with 11 home runs and 55 RBIs in 107 games. Assuming he maintains his track record, he would be an offensive upgrade at the position the Cardinals have been seeking. The price is certainly steep, as there weren't many right-handed-hitting, offensively strong shortstops available.

"We knew center field was very important, but the shortstop market on the other hand was one that was not deep in free agents," Mozeliak said. "There were really two being bantered about us. For us, it was really focusing on someone who could hit from the right side, somebody that was a steady defensive player, someone that had experience and could fit right in. We certainly explored the trade market at many levels, trying to see what we could do there, but the acquisition costs seemed very preventative for us to move forward with that."

Cardinals shortstops -- led by Pete Kozma -- had a batting line of .222/.280/.303 in 2013, with four homers and 54 RBIs. While Kozma is a stronger defensive option and Peralta is not known for defense, Mozeliak felt the signing was for the sum of the parts.

"Analytically, this may be surprising to you, he graded out pretty well -- certainly along the lines of an average shortstop," Mozeliak said of Peralta. "You combine that with his offensive skills, all of a sudden he becomes well above average at that position."

However, Peralta had a controversial 2013 season, as he served a 50-game suspension for his involvement with Biogenesis, a clinic that allegedly furnished performance-enhancing drugs to some players. He returned just in time to help Detroit in the postseason -- albeit as its left fielder -- and batted .333 (11-for-33) during the playoffs.

"There are always concerns," Mozeliak said. "When you think about what you're trying to build, a lot of things factor into how you put a club together. Character and makeup are something that we weigh into our decision making. But I think in his case, he admitted what he did. He took responsibility for it. At this point in the game, there's nothing that says he can't go play or isn't free to sign with some other club."

Because Peralta wasn't given a qualifying offer by Detroit, the Cardinals do not have to forfeit a first-round Draft pick as compensation. But the club did go somewhat out of character in committing to an older player like Peralta for such a long-term contract.

Why did St. Louis agree to four years?

"As you guys can imagine, this is a lot market driven," Mozeliak said. "Two [years] would have made a lot more sense, but that wasn't possible. You have to sometimes adjust to what's going on. Fortunately for us, one of the resources we did have was payroll flexibility, and we decided to deploy it that way."

Peralta is a .268 career hitter, with 156 home runs and a .755 OPS in 1,383 career games with the Indians (2003-10) and Tigers (2010-13).

With Freese traded, it's expected that Matt Carpenter will move from second base to third base. Peralta would likely be paired with second baseman Kolten Wong in the Cardinals' middle infield.

Besides time in the outfield, Peralta has also made 203 career starts at third base.

Mozeliak anticipated that Peralta could remain at shortstop for the life of the contract. He also put to rest any speculation Peralta was signed to play third base, which would leave Carpenter at second base and make Wong trade bait.

"I could not envision [Peralta] being our third baseman next year," Mozeliak said. "Part of what we tried to do over the last four or five days was create an opportunity for Wong. We accomplished that. A lot is being written about possibility moving him. There is no truth to that."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon.
Read More: St. Louis Cardinals, Jhonny Peralta