Cardinals GM John Mozeliak agrees with critics who think baseball needs tougher penalties for PED use. (Bill Greenblatt/UPI)

By Rob Rains

John Mozeliak knows there are a lot of people – players, fans and media among them – upset by the Cardinals’ signing of free agent shortstop Jhonny Peralta to a four-year contract because of his past links to performance-enhancing drugs.

The team’s general manager understands those concerns and opinions but he wanted to stress three points about the signing, and PEDs, when he met with the St. Louis media on Monday.

The first – he does not believe it is up to the Cardinals to be the moral police for major league baseball. The second – baseball has a drug policy for penalizing players connected with PEDs, and Peralta served the suspension he was assessed last year.

The third point was perhaps the biggest – if players don’t like the fact that Peralta was able to sign a contract which will pay him more than $50 million over the next four years – they need to band together and get the Players’ Association to change the rules and institute harsher penalties.

“If the Players Association wants to see stronger penalties I don’t think anybody in Major League Baseball is going to prevent that,” Mozeliak said. “Obviously this is something that is negotiated and in the last basic agreement this is what was agreed upon. I imagine if the players as a whole want to see change they will probably get it.

“In his (Peralta’s) case he admitted what he did. He took responsibility for it and at this point in the game there’s nothing that say he can’t go play or isn’t free to go sign with some other club. I don’t think it’s the Cardinals’ responsibility necessarily to be the morale police on potentially future employment.”

Mozeliak said he did have a conversation with Matt Holliday, one of the Cardinals’ team leaders, about signing Peralta before the deal was finalized. That conversation, Mozeliak said, did not specifically concern Peralta’s PED suspension or Holliday’s strong opinions that the penalties currently on the books are not tough enough.

“I did talk to him about this player and he did think it was a nice fit for us,” Mozeliak said. “I think sometimes you have to separate the issues. From a 10,000 foot view people do want to see stricter rules, stricter penalties. When you look at it more in a vacuum, in a silo, with each particular player, we did not feel it was our job to penalize him for his past mistakes.

“I feel like he paid for his mistakes. Obviously if he were to make another one then it would be a huge disappointment and I would certainly be weighing in with everyone else that feels penalties should be harder. You do need a deterrent and right now 50 games doesn’t seem to be stopping it. I do think it’s changed. I think Major League Baseball has done a great job trying to clean up this game and I feel like they have taken great steps to do so.”

Mozeliak, who said the contract came together quickly over the weekend, first met with Peralta and his agent at the general managers meetings in Orlando a couple of weeks ago. What impressed him the most at that time, he said, was how much Peralta expressed the desire to be a Cardinal.

“He felt like it would be a great place to play, and in our business every time you are out selling and trying to entice people to be here, it’s nice to know that’s mutual,” Mozeliak said.

On the field, Peralta should immediately become the Cardinals’ best offensive shortstop since Edgar Renteria played the position more than a decade ago.

While that anticipated performance on the field was at the heart of the decision to sign Peralta, Mozeliak also talked about the importance of character and makeup in deciding whether or not to sign a player and he believes Peralta passed those tests as well.

“Everything I’ve heard is that he is popular in the clubhouse and is well-liked,” Mozeliak said. “I think you look at the way Detroit welcomed him back after his suspension, that tells you a lot about him… I think he will fit in well in our clubhouse. The good thing for us is that we have a very strong clubhouse to begin with.

“Even though he might not be outspoken or the loudest voice, he’s someone who has been through a lot and experienced a lot and I think that can bring value to our clubhouse.”

In the span of 48 hours, the Cardinals filled their two primary off-season needs, acquiring a shortstop and center fielder, and did so without having to trade away any of their young pitching.

“Much faster than we even anticipated,” Mozeliak said of the team’s moves. “We were looking at exhausting all of these different markets to make sure we were going to make the right decisions. We did what we set out to do. There are still some things we can do.

“But if the clock stopped today we would be pretty happy with our club.”