Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta suspensions: Playoff implications

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The suspension of this pair could have a significant effect on the American League playoff race.

The suspensions for Biogenesis are finally official, meaning we know just which players -- and which teams -- are going to be adversely affected for the rest of 2013. While many of the suspended players are in the minors, on losing teams, or are simply bit pieces, a pair of standouts were in the midst of the American League playoff race: the Tigers Jhonny Peralta, and the Rangers Nelson Cruz.

The Tigers entered play on Monday at 64-45, three games up in the American League Central. They are there in no small part due to Peralta, who has hit .305/.361/.461 -- a slash line that's 42 percent better than your average shortstop -- while playing above-average defense according to both Baseball-Reference's and Fangraphs' metrics*. Both sites list him as producing over 3.5 wins above replacement -- to put that into context, only Miguel Cabrera has produced more among Tigers' position players.

*Eye tests do not necessarily agree with that sentiment, as Peralta has long been as inconsistent afield as he has been offensively. He appears to be on his game on both ends right now, though.

Losing him is no small thing, as the standings suggest that, had they fielded a replacement level shortstop rather than Peralta to this point, they might actually be behind the Indians in the Central, attempting to fight for one of the two wild card spots. It's going to be tough to give up that kind of ground at one position over the course of two months, of course, as there just isn't enough time for that to happen barring a tragic performance by Peralta's replacement. The Tigers knew this was coming, though, and acquired someone who could help them avoid such a situation in Jose Iglesias.

The former Red Sox shortstop and farmhand, acquired in last week's three-team Jake Peavy swap, is hitting .323/.367/.412 on the season. That's great for shortstop, but it's also not who Iglesias is. The Tigers are likely safer betting on his career line of .277/.328/.360, and that might even be giving him a little too much credit. However, it's very likely that Iglesias can post something like a 650 OPS the rest of the way. That doesn't seem like much, but there are two things to consider. For one, the average shortstop is hitting .254/.306/.371, for a 678 OPS, in 2013 -- 650 isn't all that far off. Second, your average shortstop doesn't field like Jose Iglesias, who is without a doubt one of the best defenders at his position in the game. The numbers don't show it this year, because he's spent much of his 2013 learning third base for the first time ever, but anyone who has seen him at short knows that he's fantastic with the leather.

175339203Photo credit: Leon Halip

So, if Iglesias can hit just enough -- within viewing distance of the average line at short -- the Tigers should be fine without Peralta. Not as good as they could have been with him, mind you, but considering they lost arguably their second-best player, they could have fallen significantly further than they will. If they manage to hold on to the division, or sneak in via one of the wild cards, they should have Peralta back with three games to go in the regular season, right in time for the postseason -- these suspensions are the length they are for a reason.

That assumes, of course, that the Tigers want him back. It's certainly their right to not welcome him back, as the Giants refused to do with Melky Cabrera last year, but it's too early on in the process to know just what Detroit is thinking. It's worth noting, however, that the minor-league season will be over, and Peralta would have gone months without facing live pitching by the time his suspension is up. The same goes for the Rangers with Cruz.

Speaking of those two, there are a few more moving pieces here than there are with the Tigers. Replacing Texas' right fielder will take multiple players, including a roving prospect and a couple of outfield platoons to make it all work. This could be a good thing, if it all works out, but given the Rangers are currently half-a-game out of the wild card race and 2.5 back of the Athletics in the AL West, they're going to need it all to go right to keep from being sunk by Cruz's absence.

Top prospect Jurickson Profar isn't going to play in the outfield anymore, according to manager Ron Washington. Instead, he'll be something of the Rangers' new Michael Young for the time being, rotating to whichever position he's needed at in the infield on a given day, or spending some time at designated hitter when that's open. That leaves a spot open in the outfield, though, but they once again have internal options to fill it.

David Murphy and Jeff Baker could platoon in left field, while Leonys Martin could shift from center to right, leaving center open. That spot would be manned by Craig Gentry and Engel Beltre, who is 23 and, like Iglesias with the Tigers, known more for his defense than his stick. He's received multiple commendations from Baseball America for his arm and overall defense over the years, and since he isn't going to hit like Cruz, it's important that he excels at something.

Cruz ranked second among regulars in OPS+ at 123, and while his defense has been problematic, he did have a strong arm and helped power the offense in a way others have struggled to since the off-season loss of both Josh Hamilton and Mike Napoli. With Cruz suspended, Lance Berkman a question mark, and Mitch Moreland falling back to Earth, Adrian Beltre has become the only reliable hitter in the lineup. Ian Kinsler is above-average for his position, but it's his glove that keeps him at the high level of value he's retained into his 30s.

The Rangers had a below-average offense with Cruz, and it's not going to be any closer to average without him. They do have August to attempt to pick up a bat on waivers, though, and their pitching aims to improve over the next few weeks as injured starters become healthy ones, a process that already began when Yu Darvish returned. They are far from out of it with Cruz gone for their remaining 50 contests, but things won't be any easier than they were.

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