DeJong, 30, was only just acquired from the Cardinals at the deadline less than three weeks ago. Bichette had just suffered a knee injury and the club quickly struck a deal to get DeJong from the Cards to cover the shortstop position. Unfortunately, DeJong’s time as a Jay has been abysmal. He has just three hits in his 44 plate appearances, all singles, with no walks and 18 strikeouts in that stretch. Now that Bichette is healthy enough to rejoin the roster, DeJong has quickly been jettisoned.
It’s the latest downturn of an incredibly inconsistent career for DeJong. In 2017, his rookie season, he launched 25 home runs and slashed .285/.325/.532 for a wRC+ of 123. The Cardinals believed in him enough to sign him to a six-year, $26MM extension with a couple of club options. Unfortunately, his offense declined in each season after that, hitting a nadir in 2022. He struck out in a third of his plate appearances last year and finished with a batting line of .157/.245/.286, a season in which he was optioned to the minors for over two months.
He seemed to right the ship somewhat here in 2023. Prior to the trade, he had hit 13 home runs in 81 games. He was still striking out at a 28.4% clip but his .233/.297/.412 line translated to a wRC+ of 95. That means he was still 5% below league average but it was miles better than his wRC+ of 55 last year. It was also plenty passable for an above-average defender at shortstop, which is the consensus around DeJong.
It was a sensible shot for the Jays to take on short notice. With Bichette suffering his injury just days before the deadline, they quickly grabbed DeJong, sending minor league reliever Matt Svanson the other way. There is no replacing Bichette, who is one of the better shortstops in the league, but DeJong could have been a fine stopgap if he maintained his near-average offense and solid glovework. If he had done so, he may have even been moved to second base once Bichette was back, with Whit Merrifield capable of playing the outfield. But as mentioned, DeJong’s production absolutely cratered after switching jerseys and the Jays have decided to simply cut their losses.
With the deadline now passed, the Jays will put DeJong on waivers in the coming days. He’s virtually a lock to clear, given his struggles and contract. He’s making $9MM this year, with about $2.13MM still to be paid out and then a $2MM buyout on his 2024 option. At the time of the trade, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals are covering the buyouts and half of DeJong’s remaining salary.
No club will want to take on that kind of salary for a player struggling as badly as DeJong. He has more than enough service time to reject an outright assignment and therefore seems bound to be released in the coming days. At that point, any club could sign him for the prorated league minimum, with that amount subtracted from what the Cards and Jays are paying.
The Jays will now proceed with Bichette back at shortstop as a combination of Merrifield, Santiago Espinal, Cavan Biggio and Davis Schneider covers second base. They currently sit half a game behind the Mariners for the final Wild Card spot with about six weeks left on the schedule.