Cheaters never prosper, Mom and Dad always said. Boy, were they wrong.

By now, no doubt, you’ve heard about the four-year, $52 million contract the St. Louis Cardinals agreed to with shortstop Jhonny Peralta, according to multiple reports.

Yep, that would be the same Jhonny Peralta who just served a 50-game suspension for his involvement in the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drug scandal at the tail end of the 2013 season, only to return in time for the playoffs and perform productively.

So, then, cheaters can prosper, it seems.

No wonder the news drew the ire of some in and around Major League Baseball, including a pair of relief pitchers: Brad Ziegler of the Arizona Diamondbacks and free agent David Aardsma.

There’s something to the sentiment—the anger, the frustration, the helplessness—projected by Ziegler’s and Aardsma’s tweets. It does, after all, feel wrong, or at least a little icky, that someone who broke the rules (and very recently so) should more or less be rewarded in the end.

In fact, the fervor rose to such a crescendo over a player whose contract essentially justified his doing something that by his own admission was wrong—Peralta copped to a “terrible mistake” after his August suspension—that his new general manager had to come out and defend the decision to hand out the contract.

Here are Cardinals GM John Mozeliak’s words (h/t ESPN):

Character and makeup are something we weigh into our decision-making. In his case, he admitted what he did, he took responsibility for it. I feel like he has paid for his mistakes, and obviously if he were to make another one, then it would be a huge disappointment.

So Mozeliak acknowledged the concerns others expressed. He also said, “You do need a deterrent, and right now 50 games does not seem to be necessarily stopping it.”

Therein lies the problem.

The point is, people shouldn’t be mad at Mozeliak and the Cardinals. If not him and them, some other GM of some other team would have given Peralta nearly the same deal (or maybe an even more lucrative one). That’s a guarantee.

And while Peralta is at fault for his indiscretion, it’s also likely that most people reading this would have done the same thing in his shoes, if their career and livelihood—and millions and millions of dollars—were on the line.

Plus, it’s not like Peralta was rewarded for cheating. The Cardinals didn’t go, “Oh, hey, Jhonny, we’re gonna give you a million dollars for every game you were banned, plus two for good luck!” No, he was rewarded with payment based on both his career and expected future production, as well as the timing and circumstances of the market for the services of a player at a premium position that is incredibly challenging to fill.

Instead, the problem lies with the system. Peralta’s contract—along with the one Melky Cabrera signed last winter and the one Nelson Cruz will land at some point in the near future—proves that baseball’s drug program, while vastly improved over the past decade and arguably the toughest among the four major pro sports, still needs some reworking.

Ziegler, the Diamondbacks’ player rep, pointed out as much in a follow-up message:

Until something changes on the penalty front in baseball, there will still be incentive for players to skirt, bend or full-out cheat the rules, particularly when money is involved.

Maybe that means 100-game suspensions for a first-time offense. Maybe it should be an entire season. Or maybe teams should be able to work in some sort of language into contracts to withhold or dock pay if a player tests positive. Heck, maybe even teams should get hit with some kind of penalty if they sign a player with a positive test in his past.

All of that, though, is for the players union and the league to decide. And that, folks, will be one hard-fought battle on both sides, even though the overwhelming sentiment among players these days seems to be that cheating ain’t cool, bro.

If it’s not clear by now that the system and penalties need to be addressed, consider one final thought.

Here’s how you know something’s wrong: A solid but unspectacular player like Peralta would have hurt his free-agent value more had he been tendered and rejected a qualifying offer by his former team—and thus cost the Cardinals their precious first-round draft pick—than he did for, oh, merely being suspended as a part of a wide-ranging PED scandal that sullied an entire sport.

Better not tell Mom and Dad.

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