JUPITER, Fla. - Talk about landing on your feet. Jhonny Peralta, despite his 50-game suspension for involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, was given 53 million reasons to join the National League champion St. Louis Cardinals.
It's a fabulous situation for Peralta -- a team with a power pitching staff that is the envy of baseball, a lineup in need of an offensive upgrade at shortstop and a welcoming clubhouse in a town that bleeds red.
Even so, had St. Louis not ponied up a four-year deal, Peralta might have become the heir apparent to Derek Jeter with the Yankees or even the starting shortstop for the Mets this year.
"I want to win a championship," said Peralta, 31, whose stellar 2013 season was interrupted by his suspension in early August. "The Yankees were really close. That was a serious conversation. We tried talking about it, but when nothing [happened], I decided to come here."
Peralta paid a price for admittedly taking supplements that contained banned substances to help control his weight during spring training in 2012. He lost $1.85 million in pay. And with free agency looming, he also lost his shortstop job in Detroit when the Tigers acquired slick-fielding Jose Iglesias.
"Bad timing," Peralta said of his suspension.
He was hitting .305 at the time and the Tigers, bound for the postseason, had won 12 of his previous 13 starts. Peralta stayed in game shape, was activated for the final three games of the regular season and helped the Tigers by hitting .333 with six RBIs in 10 playoff games.
"The Tigers appreciated what I was doing," Peralta said. "The Detroit GM [Dave Dombrowski] said to me: 'I don't know how you can do it with everything you have [been through].' "
The Cardinals, who saw shortstop Pete Kozma go 1-for-25 in last season's NLCS and World Series, were willing to look past Peralta's transgressions.
"He made a mistake and served his time," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "MLB and the Players Association set the guidelines for what those penalties are. We can't continue to pass judgment, [although] we can have opinions. We believe the mistake he made was a one-time thing and that he wants to move up and forward, and we're going to give him that chance."
St. Louis has been the perfect fit.
"People understand what happened," Peralta said. "When you say the truth, people [forgive] you. I'm here now to play and show what I can do. I'm happy to be here and proud to be with St. Louis."
For one thing, the Cards have prvided a supportive, team-first atmosphere.
"It's something that helped set us apart last year," manager Mike Matheny said. "Talent has a lot to do with it, but also having a good environment is something I believe in, heavily. I did see the benefit during the tough days, when you go on a losing streak. Guys support each other. There was no finger-pointing. Everybody's trying to put it on their shoulders, trying to figure out how to pick up the next guy."
Matheny said embracing Peralta is an example of that.
"Early on, guys realized that this is a member of our team," he said. "We're going to stand behind him and help him move forward."
Peralta said he felt the acceptance immediately. "From the beginning that I come in here, I see the difference," he said. "Everybody is together. It's more like being brothers."