If the Cardinals do sell at the deadline, they should start with Paul DeJong

Jeff+Curry%2FUSA+Today+Sports

Jeff Curry/USA Today Sports

Dan Buffa, Special to the Jewish Light

Paul DeJong shouldn’t be the starting shortstop next spring for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sorry, DeJong fans. I know the Illinois State University product gained a huge following shortly after he found full-time work up the middle for the Cardinals. I always felt like they stole him from Chicago, like a summer heist four hours up I-55.

For a few years, it worked very well. DeJong smoked 25 home runs in his first season, anchoring one of the toughest spots on the field while providing some above-average power work. He was under-appreciated and even underpaid for a time. St. Louis extended him early on with a team-friendly six-year deal worth $26 million.

But the asset has lost value drastically in the past two seasons. I’m talking about a dive in WAR (wins above replacement) from 4.1 in 2019 to a combined 1.9 this season. Sure, we’d like to toss out 2020’s performance outright–unless those trends continued into this year. Even Nolan Arenado, who is enjoying a great first season in St. Louis, posted a lowly (for him at least) .738 OPS for Colorado last year. Imagine being a Rockies fan and your final dash with the superstar of your town is a subpar one. DeJong hasn’t bounced back this season.

ADVERTISEMENT


Sure, the 13 home runs are nice to look at, but the .203 batting average in 71 games really isn’t. The rough .296 on-base percentage doesn’t help, but the real blow here is the .390 slugging percentage. DeJong is an above-average shortstop, but even that is starting to wane. Since saving 24 runs for the Cardinals in 2019, DeJong has saved three for them in the last two years combined. The strikeout rate is still high while the walk rate is low.

DeJong doesn’t steal bases or hit many doubles either. Half the time, he looks overmatched at the plate or flat out clueless. He’s late or early on pitches, but many end in whiffs. While there’s been a small resurgence after the All-Star Break (17 hits to 16 strikeouts), DeJong isn’t a Top 6 hitter… even in an uneven Cards lineup. He turns 28 in less than a week. Do we really expect him to change much in the next couple seasons?

With a big free agent class stuffed with shortstops, DeJong’s starting days should be very numbered. Edmundo Sosa should already be slicing the starts in half with him, especially with his offerings syncing more with the 2021 team. DeJong’s power has disappeared, and his defense isn’t as strong. Fan favorite or not, the value just isn’t there.

The time to trade would be now. Next year, DeJong’s salary goes from $4.1 million to $6.1, before reaching $9 million in 2023. There’s a team option for 2023 and 2024, something I don’t see being completed here. If John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch can swing a deal that nets the Cards some pop or starting pitching, you pull the trigger. DeJong couldn’t be the lone piece of the deal but for another contending team, he could find a comfort zone elsewhere… maybe far away from Jeff Albert.

With the designated hitter becoming universal after this year, DeJong could find work there. At less than $10 million with 30+ homer potential, he’s an asset. Just not here. The Cardinals need more from shortstop, especially with second base being groomed for Nolan Gorman. And with Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt anchored into deals for the foreseeable future and the young outfield coming together, shortstop is the area in real need next season.

Sosa is exciting but not an everyday player himself; better off in small doses–like the rest of this year.

DeJong could have value with youth (for the time being) and some power potential away from Busch. If the Cards do sell, I’d start with him.