Peralta, Cruz create postseason question marks
The Tigers and Rangers face quandary as playoff races start to heat up
When Melky Cabrera was suspended last summer, he instantly became persona non grata in the San Francisco Giants' clubhouse.
It didn't matter that Cabrera was their No. 3 hitter and was in the hunt for the batting title. It didn't matter that the Giants were tied with the Dodgers atop the NL West and looked -- on paper -- to be a better team with Melky in tow. Cabrera, acquired mere months earlier in a trade with the Royals, had betrayed their trust. They were moving on. They made that decision when the suspension was handed down, and they stuck with it all the way through October.
That turned out pretty well for the Giants, if I recall correctly.
It is, it seems, a bit more complicated for the Rangers and Tigers now, in the wake of the announcements that Nelson Cruz and Jhonny Peralta will serve 50-game suspensions for their violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment program in relation to the Biogenesis investigation. For these guys were not hired guns only recently brought aboard to aid the playoff push. They were ingrained, for several years, into their roles and responsibilities on playoff-caliber clubs who had come to count not only on their bats, but their presence and personalities.
Monday's announcements had wide-ranging implications for the league and for the players' union, with the conversation about tougher PED penalties picking up considerable steam. And among the 13 players involved in Monday's discipline, Alex Rodriguez's appeal of his 211-game suspension will undoubtedly occupy the greatest percentage of the public fascination in the coming weeks.
But from a pure, immediate baseball perspective, the suspensions of Cruz and Peralta, both pending free agents, have the biggest bearing on the pennant races. And at this point, there's simply no telling whether they'll be welcomed back with open arms after their time is served.
Peralta and Cruz will both be eligible for the postseason, and Peralta, in fact, would be eligible for the last three games of the regular season. But mum's the word as to whether their clubs will take advantage of this availability.
"That's not something we're going to tackle at this point," Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski said. "We don't have to make that decision. That's way down the road."
When asked about the possibility of Cruz coming back if the Rangers reach the postseason, Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said, "We're open-minded to that."
The hesitance of both men to take an outright stance either way, at this particular juncture, is understandable. The game never unfolds quite the way you draw it up in your head, and so it bears monitoring whether Jose Iglesias settles into the shortstop role for the Tigers or whether the Rangers find a waiver-wire treasure or otherwise inexplicably improve on the offensive end without Cruz's .841 OPS on board.
It's not inconceivable that either guy could do his due diligence in the weight room over the next 50 days and return ready to resume what had been, in each case, an All-Star season.
Is that a possibility that's even worth considering? Well, ultimately, that's a matter that will be determined within the four walls of the respective clubhouses. But already, you get the sense that "persona non grata" is not a phrase that applies to either Peralta or Cruz.
Even Max Scherzer, who pulled no punches in calling disgraced former MVP Ryan Braun's actions "despicable" and has been an outspoken proponent of stiffening the PED penalties, admitted he had "mixed emotions" concerning Peralta.
"You're disappointed with what he did," Scherzer said, "but you also respect that he's taken ownership."
It's worth remembering, though, that Peralta didn't take ownership of his situation earlier this year, when the Biogenesis information was first leaked to the Miami New Times and Peralta released a statement through his attorney claiming that he had never taken PEDs and that, "Anybody who says otherwise is lying."
Cruz also denied the allegations when they first came up. And when he finally owned up to his PED use on Monday, he did so by offering the excuse that he did it to overcome a gastrointestinal infection that had caused him to lose 40 pounds shortly before Spring Training. It was an excuse that was met with some rolled eyes in the industry, because, really, there are no excuses that serve to satisfy the masses.
Nonetheless, Peralta and Cruz were both beloved by their teammates and their organizations. So it's not that easy to cut the cord.
In the lead-up to the official Biogenesis announcement, there was curiosity about whether Peralta and Cruz would fight their looming suspensions for the benefit of their current clubs or take their medicine and move on for the good of their 2014 free agent value. This was, in the end, much ado about nothing, because any player selfish enough to use PEDs is probably selfish enough to put his own interests ahead of his team's. And anyway, the union encouraged the guilty to 'fess up.
Now that Peralta and Cruz have made their decision, their teams move on having taken very different approaches toward preparing for this possibility.
Dombrowski was officially forewarned of Peralta's looming penalty last Tuesday and acted swiftly to bring in a backup option before the Trade Deadline. Iglesias seemingly makes the Tigers a fundamentally different ballclub up the middle, where he'll be a human vacuum on hand to help a groundball-prone pitching staff. He won't hit like Peralta, but, in a loaded lineup, he probably won't need to.
That said, there will likely be some big spots in late innings where the Tigers will miss Peralta's pop, and, in those moments, Iglesias' glove will be little consolation.
But at least the Tigers had a reinforcement ready. The Rangers, who went all-in on adding Matt Garza, similarly kicked every tire in the depressingly shallow position player trade pool, but came up empty. Interestingly, when the Biogenesis story first broke in late January, they didn't make a panicked attempt to add Michael Bourn, who was still there for the free-agent taking. One wonders if they wish they had gone about any of this differently.
The Rangers move on with an offense that has disappointed even with Cruz. They entered Monday facing a 2 1/2-game deficit to the A's in the AL West, a half-game back of a Wild Card spot. Meanwhile, this news hit the Tigers just as they try to fend off the feisty Indians in a four-game division battle royale at Progressive Field.
Are these two clubs better off without their disgraced sluggers, as the Giants were a year ago? We'll find out the answer over the next several weeks. But in both instances, the phrase "persona non grata" does not seem to apply.