Jhonny Peralta was the second most valuable position player on the Tigers in 2013, with a WAR of 3.6, according to Fangraphs.com. He was among the top three Tigers in on base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS, and wOBA.
Among American League shortstops, Peralta led the league across the board in wOBA, slugging, on base percentage and OPS. He ranked second in the league in WAR, which includes defense and base running. Defensively, he was average according to Bill James' defensive runs saved (DRS), and posted a plus 4.8 UZR/150, in the middle of the pack in the league.
Peralta was a great find for Dave Dombrowski, who acquired him from the Cleveland Indians at the end of the 2010 season for an unsung minor leaguer who hasn't been heard from nor seen since. In fact, the Indians even agreed to pay Peralta's salary for the rest of the season to go play for Detroit. Two All Star selections later, Peralta's time in Detroit may have run it's course.
Peralta will be a free agent when the World Series is over, free to negotiate a contract with any major league club. The Tigers are expected to install Jose Iglesias as their full time shortstop, and there is no doubt that Iggy brings a spectacular glove to the team. A glove that will save several runs over the course of the season, and leave fans wowing in their seats and at their sets.
Removing Peralta's offense from the lineup will be a major blow. Will the Tigers simply substitute Iglesias for Peralta and try to make up for the lost offense with improved defense and base running? That's not going to happen. Now, there's no guarantee that Peralta would repeat his 2013 performance, but either way, if the team is not going to bring him back, and not going to replace his offense in the lineup, they need to prepare to win with lower run support than they enjoyed before Peralta was lost to suspension in 2013.
Jim Leyland used Peralta in left field and at shortstop during the playoffs. When the team struggled to score runs in the first two games at Oakland in the ALDS without Peralta's bat in the lineup, something had to be done. Iglesias and Andy Dirks took turns sitting out to make room for Jhonny, who did not disappoint, hitting .333/.353/.545/.898 with a monster game-winning home run and six RBI on a team that continued to struggle to score runs.
And if the Tigers don't bring Peralta back, will they replace his production in the lineup at another position? Second base and left field would be the two other places that could happen. Omar Infante will also be a free agent and won't come cheap, and Dirks struggled all season while Nick Castellanos hasn't shown that he's ready for prime time just yet. But finding a player who can put up Peralta's numbers, at any position, is easier said than done.
Peralta says he'd like to return to the Tigers, but I don't see how that works if they are committed to Iglesias at shortstop. I can't see Peralta playing left field every day. He's too slow for that. Maybe he can move to second base, or maybe they'll just bring him back and mix and match to keep his bat in the lineup while Iglesias and Castellanos are earning their Tiger stripes.
At 31 years of age, Peralta has a few years of baseball left in him. He won't be back at the same bargain rate of $6 million that he played for in 2013. He can surely land a multi-year contract for more like $8-10 million or more as a free agent.
Dave Dombrowski has his work cut out for him on this one. The Tigers would like to get faster, younger, cheaper, and better defensively. Iglesias brings all of those attributes, and so does Castellanos -- well, maybe not the defense quite yet.