Inside the Clubhouse: Did the Cardinals make a mistake with Paul DeJong?

MLB, St. Louis Cardinals

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This week Inside the Clubhouse, the Cardinals may have miscalculated with Paul DeJong, the Rays win again and the Mets send a message.

This offseason, the St. Louis Cardinals stuck with Paul DeJong instead of pursuing Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Trevor Story, Javier Baez or Marcus Semien in what was regarded as the best free-agent shortstop class in baseball history.

The decision was a gamble, with DeJong coming off a mediocre season in which he hit .197/.284/.390 with a .694 OPS in 402 plate appearances. He has been even worse this season, as he’s hitting .131/.221/.230 with a .450 OPS in 68 plate appearances.

“Simply put, this league is about production,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak told Bally Sports. “We want to be patient. … You’ve got to start getting done. Whatever adjustments that he feels he needs to make, he’s got to start doing that. At some point, we have to see production out of that position.”

Part of the Cardinals’ decision-making process will include Nolan Gorman, their top hitting prospect who is getting closer to making his major-league debut. He is hitting .317/.374/.744 with a 1.118 OPS in 91 plate appearances in Triple-A, though he has continued to strikeout at a high rate (32 strikeouts).

Gorman, however, has never played shortstop and that’s where things get slightly tricky. But the most likely scenario is that when he is eventually called up, he will play second base and Tommy Edman will slide over to shortstop. The Cardinals also have Edmundo Sosa as internal depth at shortstop, which would leave DeJong as the odd man out.

Both publicly and privately, the Cardinals insist that they will be patient with DeJong. They want him to have every chance to take hold of the shortstop position, especially with a team-friendly six-year, $26 million contract. But his poor play should have them contemplating a change sooner than later.

The Rays win again with Jason Adam

Earlier this week, I received this text from an American League scout: “The Rays did it again.”

The scout was referring to Jason Adam, the right-handed reliever that the Rays signed for $900,000 on March 17. He was coming off a season in which he posted a 5.91 ERA in 12 appearances with the Chicago Cubs, but had flashed in previous seasons, and Tampa Bay’s front office identified him as a candidate to pitch meaningfully better in 2022.

Adam, 30, drew interest from a variety of teams in free agency, but the Rays’ coaching staff, culture and history of getting the most out of their players appealed to him.

So far, it appears both Adam and the Rays were correct in their calculation, as he has posted a 1.80 ERA in 10 appearances. He has decreased his fastball usage (57.3 percent in 2021; 39.5 percent in 2022) and increased his changeup usage (10.6 percent in 2021; 38.8 percent in 2022).

Said another scout: “That has been a great fit for him. Just the Rays doing Rays things.”

Mets sent a message by releasing Robinson Cano

The New York Mets made the right decision to designate Robinson Cano for assignment when rosters were trimmed from 28 to 26.

Cano, 39, is owed about $37.6 million through 2023, so they could have easily kept him and optioned one of J.D. Davis, Luis Guillerome or Dominic Smith to Triple-A. But in releasing Cano, and keeping the latter three, the Mets have sent a message to their clubhouse that they will have the best players on the 26-man roster, no matter the name or salary.

Behind the scenes, people around the Mets have praised the clubhouse culture under new manager Buck Showalter. Chris Bassitt told the New York Post that it’s one of the reasons he’d strongly consider signing a long-term extension. And that, combined with Steve Cohen’s willingness to spend, have vaulted atop the National League East and among the early favorites to represent the NL in the World Series.

For Cano, it remains unclear what’s next. Jon Heyman of MLB Network said there could be multiple teams interested, but he has been suspended twice for PEDs, was hitting.195/.233/.268 and comes with a tainted reputation outside of clubhouses. All it takes is one team, but Cano may have played his last major-league game.

Five things I think:

1. I think the Milwaukee Brewers’ offense is starting to show signs of life after finishing April ranked 17th in OPS (.673) and 19th in wRC+ (95). But while they have scored 45 runs in their last five games, they have been shutout three times in their last 25 games. Rowdy Tellez has been a force as their full-time first baseman and Luis Urias has returned from a stint on the Injured List, so their offense should continue to improve.

2. I believe in the Los Angeles Angels. Sure, they could use another starting pitcher, but Noah Syndergaard and Michael Lorenzen have been strong free-agent additions. Their offense has been led by Mike Trout, Shohei Ohtani and breakout star Taylor Ward. Their bullpen has improved (3.80 ERA) since last season (4.59 ERA) and remains the key for the Angels to maintain their strong start (as well as staying healthy). But so far, I like what I’m seeing from them.

3. I think the New York Mets would be smart to extend Chris Bassitt, an idea first mentioned by Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Bassitt, 33, has the same number of innings (31) and ERA (2.61) as Max Scherzer, who signed a three-year, $130 million contract this offseason. At one point this offseason, Steve Cohen was sending angry tweets after failing to sign Steven Matz. They were involved in the bidding on Kevin Gausman. They turned their attention to Bassitt, who has kept their rotation together with Jacob deGrom on the Injured List. And it’s time to consider an extension for the right-hander.

4. I think what umpire Dan Bellino did to Madison Bumgarner was completely unacceptable. In what was supposed to be a routine check for foreign substances, Bellino did not even pretend to look at Bumgarner’s hands. He stared at him for 3-4 seconds and provoked a reaction from Bumgarner that resulted in the left-hander being ejected. Bellino, who did not speak after the game about the incident, needs to be disciplined by MLB. This simply cannot happen.

5. I think the Pittsburgh Pirates made the right call keeping talented prospect Oneil Cruz off their Opening Day roster. Sure, he made his major-league debut last season, but he has played only 26 career games in Triple-A. He’s hitting .167/.270/.269 in 20 games in the minors this season and has struck out 28 times in 89 plate appearances. He will be called up at some point this season, but he clearly needed more time in the minors.

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