Feb. 16: Peralta’s incentives are based on days on the active roster, reports Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic. Peralta will get $500K for 90, 120 and 150 days on the active roster.
Feb. 10: The Dodgers are adding one of the top remaining free agent outfielders, agreeing to terms with David Peralta on a one-year deal. The contract, which is pending a physical, reportedly guarantees the ACES client $6.5MM and could max out at $8MM if Peralta reaches all his incentives.
Peralta heads back to the NL West, where he spent the first eight and a half years of his big league career with the Diamondbacks. The left-handed hitter broke out with a .312/.371/.522 showing in 2015 to secure the primary left field job in the desert. He’d only once recapture quite that level when he hit 30 homers in 2018 but typically posted slightly above-average offensive numbers while playing quality defense.
Things have been fairly consistent over the past four seasons, with the Venezuela native putting up offensive numbers within the realm of league average. Going back to the start of the 2019 season, he’s a .266/.329/.425 hitter in over 1600 plate appearances. That production checks in two percentage points above league average, as measured by wRC+. Peralta typically walks around a league average rate, makes a decent amount of contact and has averaged a 13-homer pace per 600 plate appearances over that stretch.
It seemed as if he might take a step forward early in his age-34 campaign. Peralta seemingly made a concerted effort to elevate the ball more, hitting fly balls at a 44.9% clip in his first 87 games after never previously topping a 31% rate in a season. That came with a slight uptick in strikeouts but also a notable jump in power, as he hit 12 homers with a solid .248/.316/.460 line through 310 trips to the dish. With the Diamondbacks out of contention and wanting to get a look at a number of promising controllable outfield options, they dealt Peralta to the Rays a little before the summer deadline.
Peralta’s newfound power didn’t translate to his time in Tampa Bay. He didn’t connect on a single homer in 47 contests for the Rays, stumbling to a .255/.317/.335 line over 180 plate appearances. His fly-ball percentage dropped ten points, and while his 34.7% rate as a Ray would’ve still represented a career high before last season, it was much more in line with his previous marks. Between the two clubs, the veteran combined for a .251/.316/.415 line over 490 trips.
It’s possible back discomfort played a role in Peralta’s late-season drop in production. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times recently reported he underwent an offseason surgery to repair a herniated disc in his lower back. There’s no indication that’ll affect his readiness for spring camp and provides some hope he might be able to recapture his first-half form with better health.
Peralta adds an experienced lefty bat to a corner outfield mix that had seemed fairly uncertain aside from Mookie Betts. Chris Taylor had his worst season as a Dodger last year with a strikeout rate exceeding 35%. He’ll surely get an opportunity to bounce back but might be better suited for his typical multi-positional role than everyday work in left field. Center field looks to fall to Trayce Thompson, who had a huge .256/.353/.507 line in a half-season last year but struck out at a 36.5% clip himself.
Highly-regarded prospect James Outman could also secure some playing time after a big season in the upper minors. The 25-year-old only has four games of big league experience so far, however. Veterans Jason Heyward, Bradley Zimmer and Steven Duggar will be in camp as non-roster invitees. Manager Dave Roberts recently indicated on a podcast appearance with ESPN’s Buster Olney that Heyward had a strong chance of making the club, though that’d presumably be in a depth capacity.
Peralta can take some at-bats from Taylor and/or Thompson against right-handed pitching while perhaps giving the club the freedom to start Outman back with Triple-A Oklahoma City. Peralta has long been a reliable option with the platoon advantage and typically plays strong left field defense. Public metrics were mixed on his glovework in 2022 — Defensive Runs Saved estimated he was five runs below average, while Statcast graded him five runs above par — but he should at least offer competent work on that side of the ball.
It’s a fairly modest roll of the dice from a financial perspective. Tacking on Peralta’s salary brings Los Angeles’ projected 2023 payroll around $227MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. The organization’s luxury tax ledger is now up to about $243MM, taking them more than $10MM above the base threshold. The Dodgers are taxed at a 50% rate on any spending between $233MM and $253MM as a team that’s set to pay the tax for a third consecutive season. The total acquisition cost for Peralta is roughly $9.75MM — $6.5MM in salary plus $3.25MM in fees — and brings the Dodgers within $10MM of the second threshold and its associated heightened penalties.
That’s not nothing, though it’s not a huge outlay for a franchise that spent an MLB-most $32.4MM in luxury payments last year. The Dodgers flirted with the possibility of dipping below the threshold this winter, a move that would’ve been mostly about resetting their payor status and dodging repeat penalties if they went back over next offseason. Those hopes mostly evaporated once Trevor Bauer’s suspension was reduced on appeal and his salary came back on the books. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman confirmed last week the club was not looking to avoid the tax as they fight for another division title, and they’ve backed that up by bringing Peralta aboard.
With Peralta headed to L.A., the free agent corner outfield market thins out even further. Jurickson Profar is the clear top player still remaining, while platoon types like Tyler Naquin and Ben Gamel are also unsigned. The Yankees have been linked to left field help, Peralta included, at times this offseason but might be up against their spending limit. The Rangers are still scouring the corner outfield market, while teams like the Braves and White Sox have some question marks but appear likely to roll with their in-house options at this point.
Image courtesy of USA Today Sports.