St. Louis Cardinals: Pressure On Paul DeJong
Paul DeJong’s offensive numbers have been trending in the wrong direction the last couple of seasons, giving Cardinal fans a cause for concern heading into the 2022 season knowing he’s all but been named the team’s starting shortstop.
Prior to the lockout and when asked, the front office (including John Mozeliak & Michael Girsch) acknowledged having faith in DeJong being their guy. Some of that I think was from the rumor mill that the Cardinals could be players in the Trevor Story sweepstakes, and if that was the case would likely leave DeJong the odd man out.
The 28-year old is coming off a miserable 2021 season that saw him miss time due to a rib fracture. In 356 at bats (in just 113 games) DeJong hit .197/.284/.390 with 19 HR and 45 RBI. He also struck out 103 times. Defensively, he was on par with his career avg. .980 fielding % with 8 errors on the season.
Ultimately that batting avg. played into Mike Shildt’s decision to play Edmundo Sosa more with them splitting time at the position towards the end of the season.
The Cardinals signed DeJong to a 6-year, $26M extension back in 2018. He’ll have a base salary of $6M in 2022, $9M in 2023 and there are 2 club options at $12.5M for 2024 (that features a $2M buyout) and $15M for 2025 (that features a $1M buyout). All in all the contract is very team friendly despite his offensive regression.
Looking back on DeJong’s time with the Cardinals organization, he was drafted in the 4th round of the 2015 MLB draft and signed a $200,000 contract. He played for both the Johnson City Cardinals of the Appalachian League & Peoria Chiefs of the Class A Midwest League. He slashed .316/.394/.516 with 9 HR and 41 RBI through 66 games between the two.
In 2016, he played for the Double-A Springfield Cardinals where he was named a Texas League All-Star and finished the year slashing .260/.324/.460 with 22 HR and 73 RBI in 132 games. At seasons end the Cardinals assigned DeJong to the Glendale Desert Dogs of the Arizona Fall League where he hit .232 with a HR and 9 RBI in 19 games.
2017, DeJong began the season with the Memphis Redbirds. While the bulk of his time was spent at shortstop, he did play a handful of games at 2B & 3B. In the 46 games that Paul played in AAA for Memphis, he hit .294 with 11 HR & 31 RBI. Due to a Kolten Wong injury, DeJong got the call up to the big leagues, and with Cardinals SS Aledmys Diaz getting off to a slow start, the team eventually sent him to Memphis with DeJong taking over the shortstop duties.
That 2017 season, DeJong would go on to play in 108 games slashing .285/.325/.532 with 25 HR & 65 RBI finishing 2nd for Rookie of the Year in the National League. That off-season the Cardinals traded Diaz to the Toronto Blue Jays, ultimately having faith in DeJong to be the team’s starting shortstop after such a strong showing.
Prior to the 2018 season is when the contract extension was offered and accepted, which was at the time the largest-ever agreement with a player who hadn’t completed at least one year of MLB service.
DeJong started the season off strong and suffered a fractured left hand after being hit by a pitch which required surgery. He missed significant time, but returned and finished the season with a .241/.313/.433 slashline, 19 HR & 68 RBI.
2019, Paul had a career year for the Cardinals. He was the team’s lone selection for the All-Star team, became the first St. Louis shortstop to hit 3 HR in a game, and had the best fielding percentage of all MLB shortstops (.989).
According to Baseball-Reference.com, led all NL fielders in defensive WAR (3.3) and assists (435), and all NL shortstops in putouts (211) and double plays turned (119). He was nominated for a Gold Glove along with Trevor Story, but lost out to Nick Ahmed who won his second straight at shortstop.
DeJong’s bat slowed a bit after a hot start, but finished with a .233/.318/.444 slashline with a career best 30 HR & 78 RBI over 159 games.
In an already shortened 2020 season, Paul was placed on the IL after testing positive for Covid-19. He went on to slash .250/.322/.349 in 45 games with 3 HR & 25 RBI.
That brought us to his 2021 season that listed above, was lackluster at best. It’s hard to justify trotting a player out consistently that is hitting below the Mendoza line (.200), and at times it was frustrating to see then-manager Mike Shildt continuing to put DeJong in the lineup. On one hand, you knew that the only way for him to improve was to get reps in, but at the same time was proving to be detrimental with the lack of production.
Prior to the lockout this off-season, the Cardinals were rumored to at least have some interest in free-agent SS Trevor Story. Whether there is any truth to that remains to be seen. If DeJong struggles out of the gate, it may mean a short leash where Edmundo Sosa gets the job, or if St. Louis feels comfortable enough to call up Nolan Gorman to play 2B, they could in-turn slot Tommy Edman into the SS position.
The latter of the two would seemingly be a last resort, as Edman won a Gold Glove last season at 2B and the front office likely wanting Gorman to become more polished for everyday second base duties.
Compare DeJong’s 2021 slashline of .197/.284/.390 with 19 HR, 45 RBI and 103 strikeouts in 113 games to Edmundo Sosa’s slashline of .271/.346/.389 with 6 HR, 27 RBI and 63 strikeouts in 113 games and it may be worth the drop in power to have a more consistent bat in the lineup by starting Sosa.
Part of me thinks that maybe it’s DeJong’s approach that may have something to do with his decline, such as his line drive rate dropping significantly and his ground ball rate going up, and the other part of me thinks maybe he never fully recovered from some of the injuries and obstacles he faced the past couple of seasons.
Looking at his 5-years in a Cardinals uniform, DeJong has a career slashline of .241/.312/.443 with 96 HR, 468 hits including 98 doubles, 281 RBI and 548 strikeouts in 540 games.
It will be interesting to see if John Mozeliak’s confidence in Paul DeJong bouncing back and returning to form will be purely optimistic, or if the former All-Star who is putting in work this off-season can indeed be a more relied upon bat for the Cardinals in 2022.
One thing is for certain, there will be some pressure on DeJong coming into this season. If his struggles continue, his trade value goes down. But with a number of teams looking for a defensively reliable shortstop, a trade wouldn’t be out of the question despite a minimal return.
With that said, and with me rather being optimistic than pessimistic, I do hope DeJong silences the critics and performs at a high level. He’s a good clubhouse guy that does put in the work. It’s all a matter of that work paying off and being beneficial to this team being able to consistently win games.
What say you on your confidence or lack thereof in Paul DeJong heading into 2022? Let us know in the comments. As always thanks for reading and Go Cards!