Peralta brings bat, glove, leadership to Rays

July 31st, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- As a pending free agent playing for a last-place team in Arizona,  understood he could be dealt before Tuesday’s Trade Deadline. He talked with people at his agency and learned Tampa Bay was among the interested teams, then added Rays games to his media diet, watching their games from afar.

“I’m like, ‘Hey, this can be the team that I’m going to be playing for in the future,’” Peralta said Sunday morning. “And it happened, and I’m glad that I’m here.”

After being traded Saturday afternoon, Peralta officially joined his new team for Sunday’s series finale against the Guardians and found himself batting fifth and starting in left field at Tropicana Field. The 34-year-old was thrilled to join not just a contending team -- as he only reached the postseason once with the D-backs -- but one he’d watched in the playoffs the last few years.

“Excited. That's what I'm always training for in the offseason, to be in the postseason,” Peralta said. “So now I've got the opportunity to be in one, and I can't wait to go out there and just win some games.”\

Here’s what the Rays are getting in Peralta.

A proven left-handed hitter
The Rays have dealt with an inconsistent lineup nearly all season, in large part because the group has been depleted by injuries to key players like Wander Franco, Manuel Margot, Mike Zunino, Kevin Kiermaier, Harold Ramírez, Francisco Mejía and Brandon Lowe (who returned just before the All-Star break).

An experienced hitter like Peralta should add depth to the Rays’ lineup, especially against right-handed pitching, while they wait for others to return from the injured list. Peralta has hit .248/.316/.460 with 12 home runs and a career-best barrel rate (11.6 percent) in 87 games this season, including .268/.325/.498 with 11 homers against righties.

At his best during his Silver Slugger Award-winning 2018 season, Peralta hit for a high average (.293), got on base (.352 OBP) and displayed real power (30 homers, 25 doubles). At the very least, he’s another hitter who has been there and done that.

“It's obvious it's been a trying time for some young players,” manager Kevin Cash said. “To be able to stick a guy that is a proven bat, that can go up there and give solid at-bats against good pitching, I think he's going to help us.”

A strong defensive left fielder
Peralta won a National League Gold Glove Award in 2019, and he has been one of the Majors’ best defensive left fielders this season. He ranks 23rd among all qualified outfielders with four outs above average, according to Statcast -- Brett Phillips leads the pack, with 10 OAA -- and that mark ranks third among left fielders.

Peralta doesn’t possess the strongest arm and hasn’t regularly played right field since 2017, which means he’ll get most of his work in left. Cash also prepared Peralta for the possibility of some late-game defensive switches as well as occasional DH days to rest.

With Peralta in left and Josh Lowe at Triple-A Durham, the Rays’ default outfield alignment for now -- and the one they used Sunday -- will include Randy Arozarena in right field and either Phillips or Roman Quinn in center. Arozarena has only played left this season, but he said he’s fine bouncing around after spending 53 games in right last year.

“I’m happy,” Arozarena said through interpreter Manny Navarro. “With the moves that the front office makes here, you believe that it's going to be a good move.”

A key veteran presence
This is the hardest part to quantify, but could be the most valuable. The Rays have done well adding veterans who make as much of an impact on their younger teammates as they do on the field. Think about respected leaders like Charlie Morton and Nelson Cruz, for example.

Peralta said he’s going to be himself, not absorbing any additional pressure to be a leader. But his story alone makes him someone for younger players to admire and learn from.

After beginning his career as a pitcher in the Cardinals’ system in 2006 and being released only 18 appearances later, he worked at a McDonald’s and spent parts of three seasons in independent ball before catching on in the D-backs' system in 2013. A year later, he was in the big leagues. Eight years later, he’s still here.

“That's what you have to do,” Peralta said. “You have to be really disciplined [with] what you do every day and work hard all the time. That's what I did.”