MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Peralta addition keeps Cards stronger in other areas

Peralta addition keeps Cards stronger in other areas

Peralta addition keeps Cards stronger in other areas

Shelby Miller is still a member of the St. Louis Cardinals. So is Trevor Rosenthal, Joe Kelly and Lance Lynn. Also Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha.

Those six young pitchers are big reasons the Cardinals began this offseason better positioned to win the World Series in 2014 than any other team.

And they're all still Cardinals. If you're wondering whether the signing of free-agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a deal believed to be worth $52 million over four years makes sense, there's your answer.

The Cardinals got better at the one position they believed they needed to get better at, and they did it without surrendering one of their big arms. So if you're inclined to fret about how much money Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak paid for Peralta, go right ahead.

It's also fair to note the contract will take Peralta through his 35th birthday and that he did serve a 50-game suspension for performance-enhancing substances in 2013.

All that stuff is less important than the real bottom line: He makes the Cardinals better for two important reasons. First, he's solid defensively and a career .268 hitter. Best of all, the Cardinals got him without surrendering pitching.

They've got so much of it that rumors swirled about them using some of that pitching to upgrade at shortstop, their only problem area. Mozeliak apparently did kick the tires on Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, but nothing came close to happening.

Mozeliak also checked out another free-agent shortstop, Stephen Drew. He's nothing if not thorough. For instance, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, one of baseball's most underrated players, would have been a nice fit.

But it never really made sense that Mozeliak would trade a pitcher. Organizations can work for years and never have the kind of pitching depth the Cardinals have. To trade any of it is a risk.

Peralta was the one guy Mozeliak could acquire without weakening the Cardinals anyplace else. He also doesn't require Draft-pick compensation. Peralta does everything at a fairly high level, has never been on the disabled list and can play all over the diamond.

Peralta had multiple offers in free agency, but he is said to have wanted to play for the Cardinals. No surprise there. St. Louis is one of the destination cities for players. It's baseball season every single day of the year, and every single game is important in St. Louis.

With a packed ballpark, great ownership, winning teams and an organization committed to doing everything right, the Cardinals are one of the franchises every other is measured against.

Another thing that makes the Cardinals better is their understanding that good organizations evolve and change. Change can be painful and not particularly popular. For instance, Albert Pujols signing with the Angels two years ago.

The Cardinals badly wanted Pujols, but they were unwilling to blow their budget on him because it would have limited what they could do in other areas. When the Angels offered Pujols $240 million over 10 years, the Cardinals wished him well and signed Carlos Beltran, then a free agent.

In two years since Pujols departed, the Cardinals have made the postseason twice. One year, they got to Game 7 of the National League Championship Series. The other, Game 6 of the World Series.

This offseason has brought more change. The Cardinals seem likely to have new starters at five of their eight everyday positions: third, short, second, right and center.

Here's the breakdown:

Matt Carpenter takes over at third for David Freese, who, along with Fernando Salas, was traded to the Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.

• Bourjos seems likely to start in center or at least share the position with Jon Jay.

• Peralta becomes the starter at short.

Kolten Wong steps in for Carpenter at second.

Oscar Taveras replace Beltran, who is in demand on the free-agent market in right.

None of this is etched in stone. If Allen Craig does indeed return to first base, it leaves Matt Adams without regular playing time. So Cardinals manager Mike Matheny will have the option of putting Craig in the outfield and playing Adams at first base.

That a player as good as Adams may not have a regular position speaks volumes about the organization. And a year after winning 97 games, the Cardinals seem comfortable putting their top two Minor Leaguers -- Taveras and Wong -- in the lineup.

But Mozeliak could have other moves in mind. Because the Cardinals have done such a good job in player development, they have a stockpile of young controllable talent.

So Mozeliak has some financial flexibility to make another move. He's unlikely to sign, say, Robinson Cano to play second, but stranger things have happened.

Regardless, Peralta makes sense for the Cardinals. He and Bourjos will help give the Cardinals a new look in 2014, but keeping the pitching staff intact is the smartest move of all.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.