The Cardinals have entered each of the past four seasons with Paul DeJong as the Opening Day shortstop. He’d earned the starting nod in 2018 after hitting .285/.325/.532 across 443 plate appearances as a rookie the year prior. DeJong’s next two seasons weren’t quite as strong, but he still combined slightly above-average offense with highly-regarded glovework.
Over the last two years, though, DeJong’s production at the dish has tailed off. Going back to the start of 2020, he’s just a .213/.295/.378 hitter over 576 trips to the plate. That led to a fall down the batting order and eventually, a reduction in playing time. Edmundo Sosa took the lion’s share of at-bats in the season’s final month, and erstwhile skipper Mike Shildt turned to Sosa in a must-win Wild Card game.
With how the second half of the season played out, it seemed like DeJong could wind up as a trade candidate this winter. The free agent shortstop class was loaded with stars, and the Cardinals don’t have many obvious areas of need on the position player side. Yet there was no indication St. Louis made much effort to move DeJong in the early stages of the offseason, and Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch now writes that the Cardinals “were not active in discussions with any player in this marquee class of free-agent shortstops” prior to the lockout.
While it’s possible the team ignites free agent discussions after the transactions freeze — Carlos Correa and Trevor Story remain available — it seems likelier shortstop will be DeJong’s job to lose. Not only was he not the subject of any trade rumors of note, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak and general manager Mike Girsch gave DeJong a public vote of confidence at November’s GM Meetings. According to Goold, Cardinals executives also privately expressed confidence in DeJong’s ability to right the ship and reclaim the shortstop job in 2022. (Those conversations also occurred before the lockout, which includes a prohibition on contact between team staff and players on the 40-man roster).
DeJong’s contact rate and overall average exit velocity have each dipped over the past couple seasons. Yet he actually barreled balls up at a career-best 10.6% clip last year, and his exit velocity on balls hit in the air hasn’t meaningfully changed. That provides some reason for optimism DeJong’s offensive production can improve, particularly if last season’s .212 batting average on balls in play regresses closer to his .282 career mark. The 28-year-old isn’t merely resting on his laurels awaiting better batted ball fortune, however, as he chats with Goold about changes he’s made to his offseason training routine.
Regardless of whether he rebounds offensively, DeJong should be a key part of a high-end defensive infield. He’s coming off a season regarded highly by both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average, and DRS has pegged DeJong as a plus gloveman throughout his career. Sosa remains on hand as a potential fallback option, coming off a nice .271/.346/.389 showing. DeJong is guaranteed around $6.167MM next season and is controllable through 2025 under the terms of the contract extension he signed four seasons ago.
Cardinals have 2 MLB caliber SS already on the roster and 3 of their top 30 prospects are SS. SS is not a position of need for the Cardinals
Dejong postseason 0 hr 3 rbi .220
Corerra postseason 18 hr 59 rbi .272
In 2020 and 2021, Carlos Martinez had 21 starts, went 4-12 and had an era of roughly 7.00. He is gone.
Kwang-hyun Kim is also a free agent, he was talented but highly inconsistent last year. Liberatore will probably start 2022 in the minors.
Dirty birds need another pitcher more than a shortstop. Maybe they will bring Kim back?
Please, Hammer. Don't hurt 'em.
I would consider bringing Kim back if the price is right. He gets injured a lot and only usually only goes 5 innings at a time but he’s not terrible with run prevention.
@ diddlez- a lot of the “best defensive players in baseball” are backups. Billy Hamilton would compete for a gold glove at center field every year if he played enough. He would probably lead the league in stolen bases, too. It doesn’t matter. He’s not good enough at hitting. You have to score runs to win games. No player should be on a multi-year deal at over $8 million a year if his bat is so bad he is going to lose his job to someone like Sosa in the playoffs. It might not be as bad as a huge contract like Jason Heyward but the Dejong contract is still a bad contract. It is definitely underwater. The Cardinals only paid him that much because they thought he was going to hit better than this garbage. If Dejong wasn’t on a guaranteed contract the Cardinals would have released him by now just to spend that $17 million on someone else who can actually hit. That by definition is a mistake.
@Please, Hammer. Don’t hurt ’em
Billy Hamilton’s career wRC+ is 66. DeJong’s is 102, even with the last two injured years. There’s a world of difference between their bats. DeJong is above league average slightly. Hamilton is worse than some pitchers.
DeJong’s contract is 6 years/26 million guaranteed with two options totaling 27.5 million. Given that teams were paying 9 million per WAR in 2018 he exceeded the value of his contract in 2018 alone. Throw in the 36+ million he was worth in 2019 and this deal has been a steal for the Cardinals.He’s been worth 9.7 fWAR so far under contract which is $90 million in value conservatively They could literally pay out his whole contract including the two options and it would still net almost $40 million in surplus value if he literally takes zero more at bats for the Cardinals.
They already got another starting pitcher with Matz; while Flaherty, Mikolas, and Hudson are all healthy now. They already have a very good starting 5 (along with Wainwright) along with Reyes and Woodford in reserve. What they need is more quality bullpen arms.
The rest of DeJong contract is only underwater if his bat remains where it was last year and in 2020. If he can rebound back to even his 2019 offensive level (of which there’s a decent possibility), then the contract becomes a good one again.
However, I do agree that he would’ve been non-tendered (not technically released) this offseason if he weren’t under contract.
Who are you kidding? DeWitt has 3 billion and very obviously cannot afford a payroll over 160 million? 3 million fans and all every year as well and cannot afford to sign Correra or Story, that’s the story with DeWitt. He’s a cheap SOB
DeJong is an MLB caliber shortstop. Sosa is a major league utility guy, maybe.
Sosa was a very good starting shortstop last year. The only question is if he can repeat that performance.
Keeping DeJong and Sosa vs grossly overpaying for Correa is the only sensible move.
Agreed. I think we see a better Paul dejong next year. Edman can always slide over to SS if Gorman proves capable at 2B. Let the kids play and go get us some pitching!
Agreed. If Goldy, Arenado, and the outfielders produce at a level similar to last season, we can win with Dejong at SS. Add depth to the rotation, find another reliable arm for the bullpen, and most importantly, stay flexible. We finally have most of the dead weight trimmed off the roster. The division is getting weaker. There is no reason to do anything rash.
Worse case scenario Gorman gets called up to play 2b and Edman moves over to SS
They need that left handed power bat too. He’s a switch hitter, but a true lefty when you look at his splits
I’m not necessarily advocating the Cardinals FO go out and spend a ton of money for Correa or Story but they seem to have a blind spot in their affinity for Dejong. He’s regressed every year since his rookie year and I’m just not sure what they’re seeing that everyone else isn’t. He’s an above average defender with pop but doesn’t get on base a lot and strikes out way to often but they seem to think the guy a premier hitter.
They know what they have. The problem is they extended him and aren’t willing to admit their mistake (see also Matt Carpenter, Carlos Martinez, Alan Craig, and probably others I’m not recalling at the moment). It’s part of the deal, for sure, but at some point you have to admit it didn’t work out as planned and move on.
And by “move on” I don’t necessarily mean to cut bait. Sometimes you do have to ride it out knowing it wasn’t the plan, but it’s the reality you’re dealing with now. I absolutely do NOT want them to sign Correa or Story. If we think a 4-year extension for an average SS looks bad, just wait until year 3 of a 10-year, 300 million contract when both guys are aging fast.
They do usually admit their mistakes. That’s why Craig was traded, while Carpenter lost playing time in 2020 and was benched last year. DeJong also wound up benched last year when Sosa was clearly outplaying him. As for Martinez, it was partly necessity and partly that he actually pitched well half the time (when he wasn’t getting blown out in the other half of his starts) that kept him getting starts last year until he also got hurt.
It’s just too early to give up on DeJong at this point.
That’s why they have Sosa and Gorman (with Edman sliding to SS) as very adequate Plans B & C.
His defense is exceptional and he hits a decent amount of bombs and takes his walks. Just gotta boost that BA by not hitting into the shift as much. Easier said than done! But I think he makes the adjustment. Also needs to K less, but so does 90% of the league.
With more use of shifts, why do teams need position specific players?
I get what you’re saying @Old York, but shortstop is still one of those positions where you need an actual shortstop. I used to think CF, SS, and C would be the three positions where people couldn’t bop around. A pure CF seems to be a luxury now as corner outfielders become more athletic. Whether that be the result of better conditioning, athleticism increasing over time in general, or more infielders transitioning to corner spots; who knows?
The Tigers have been filling the SS position for several years with multi positional players, like Ronny Rodriguez, Harold and Willie Castro, Niko Goodrum, Sergio Alcantara, and Zack Short. They are a testament to why a solid defensive SS is important. The Tigers started their turn around last year when Zack Short started getting playing time. He can’t hit a lick, but his defense was eye opening, compared to what they had.
@stymeedone. That’s a good point. I also think continuity at shortstop is crucial. While I’m not an “eyeball test” old school guy, I’m of the opinion the shortstop should be the one aware of all situations and direct others accordingly.
Niko Goodrum may have been a gold glove finalist a year ago (or was it 2?). But he split time at multiple positions throughout the year. It’s hard to have a leader in that position when they are in left field the next day.
The shortstop is your best fielder, period. Shortstop is the most athletically demanding position
I don’t know what people expected. They were never going to get into that sweepstakes unless it was on da cheap.
DeJong could rebound and Sosa could regress. I don’t mind if they keep Paul around and feel the position out for a bit but they have to settle on it at some point if and when the season progresses. He needs to be a bit more selective during his abs. Sosa does bring some fire on both sides of of the ball I’ll admit.
They should just leave the infield alone.
This Cardinals team gets the benefit of a MLB Division that is the worst in baseball. That being said, the Cardinals are about to implode, their farm system is terrible, they think Bader is a starter and DeJong is better than average. Their needle pointed down and hitting rock bottom will come when Arenado decides to opt out after 2022.
This is laughable. The only thing remotely correct in this is that the division is the worst in baseball. The Cardinals haven’t “imploded” since DeWitt bought the team in 1995. The Cardinals Outfield, including Bader, went from a huge question mark into one of baseball’s most productive. If Arenado didn’t opt out last season, he won’t opt out now either. His stock on the open market is getting less appealing, not more. Stats show that for his career Paul DeJong is above average. The debate is whether or not he will be going forward. With his defense, his floor is already pretty high. The farm system isn’t terrible either. It’s middle of the pack and the Cardinals have had a knack for finding gems that were not highly touted prospects, including DeJong himself.
The farm system is middle of the pack if you consider below average to be middle of the pack. Per mlb pipeline:
But for the most part, this is a farm system that has stagnated. Impact pitching beyond Liberatore feels like the biggest area of need, though the addition of 18th-overall pick Michael McGreevy helps some in that regard.
But let’s go with the knack …
The Cardinals have three top 100 prospects and two of them are top 30? Gorman and walker are two top 30 and then Libetore…they still have Thompson who did have a not so good season but then did good in the AFL…I think people think Oviedo won’t be much because he didn’t do so well in the MLB…the guy never pitched above A ball before the Cardinals asked him to fill in for injuries…I think he is going to be good with a little maturing and you know…pitching above A ball in the minors…I’m sure this years draft will be focused on pitching considering the international draft was focused on position players…the cardinals always produce from the minors…the only players on the field not coming from the Cardinals system are Goldy and Arenado…O’Neill was traded for but came up from the cardinals minor leagues…Flaherty and Hudson from the Rotation…plus look at every trade the Cardinals make with other teams and look at how the other teams have made out with great players from the cardinals system…to name a few…Randy Arezoneria…Carson Kelly…Sandy Alcantara..zac Gallen…and more…keep doubting their system
I want Alcantara and Gallen back, there what’s missing for the Cardinals to have to have 6% world seires odds right now, and the reason MO traded Arozarena for a can’t miss pitching prospect. I also think that Libby and Goreman being teammates in highschool played into it?
Rating farm systems is always a challenge, so who knows what will come of those in their system today. As long as they aren’t really low in the rankings, I’m not worried. History tells me that STL has gotten a lot from their system over the years. Both from highly regarded prospects and under-the-radar guys that you never expected.
@msqboxer…you are obviously clueless on anything Cardinals with that take…
Eh, the AL Central might be worse. At least the NL Central has 2 teams (the Cardinals and Brewers) who should be better than 4 of their AL counterparts and maybe even the White Sox as well. Meanwhile, while the Reds seem likely to sell off at least one more piece and become even weaker, the same is also true of the Indians.
If they’re not signing Story, I’ll just role the dice with Edman and Sosa up the middle or trade some of those prospects for a guy like Ketel Marte to play 2B or SS. It’ll be the best move for an upgrade and both of Edman and Marte can play both positions up the middle. Marte can even play CF as well if they decide to keep on using Sosa.
Anyone that knows baseball just needs to look at the whole offensive numbers by Cardinal hitters since Albert took over. Bad approach to the game, unwillingness to bunt out of the shift and in general bad situational hitting. Until he is fired they will be average
So how do you explain the offensive improvements made by O’Neill, Bader, Carlson, and Sosa?
Besides, bunting out of the shift is only really an option for lefties, which the Cardinals were very short on last year.
See now these are the philosophical differences I think got Mike Shildt canned? Something Oli and Jeff were able to identify that Shildt wasn’t? Idk? Plenty of speculation
Even if DeJong loses the job again, Sosa is still a perfectly good replacement if he can repeat the strong offensive rookie showing he had last year, and his defense is even a little better than DeJong’s.
The odds are in favor of at least one of the two being an adequate starting shortstop for a contending team this upcoming season. The Cardinals need to spend their remaining money on upgrading the bullpen and bench (or finding a DH if needed).
Sosa isn’t nearly as good with the glove as Dejong. But his aggressiveness and personality were something the Cardinals were starved for in 2021
The new Brett Ryan all glove can’t hit.
I didn’t like this take? Yall are so bromantic about Story and Arenado playing on the same team? DeWitt and his 3 billion and his 3 million loyal fans can’t afford a payroll over 160 million, what does it take to get you guys to understand that 3 billion can’t afford 180 million in payroll?
Here’s the deal, they have Gorman, Edman, Sosa, Dejong, Arenado, Goldschmidt and Yepez on the infield already? Mozeliak knows the best he’s gonna be able to do for Dejong after his bad season is another Randal Grinchuk/Stephen Piscotty type trade. Not something your willing to do for Mike Matheny at short stop? He’s perfect late inning replacement of the offense was able to secure a lead? Paul Dejong still has a role with the Cardinals, hopefully he figures out the pitch recognition he is struggling with like Harrison Bader, and Tyler O’Neill were able to do last year? Adam Wainwright said he’s the smartest player on the team, I have faith in him for now.