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3 solutions to the Paul DeJong problem on the St. Louis Cardinals’ hands
Through 24 games and 86 plate appearances at the big league level, former NL Rookie of the Year runner-up and 2019 All-Star Paul DeJong was one of the worst players in the entire league.
DeJong managed just 10 hits before the Cardinals were forced to demote him to Triple-A Memphis. He had struck out in 30 percent of his plate appearances in the majors, had a .130 batting average and had an OPS+ of 22.
For reasons unknown, this is not the first we had seen of DeJong’s struggles. He looked so-so in 2020 but struggled mightily in 2021, posting a .197/.284/.390 line with an 85 OPS+. Luckily for him, his stellar defense at a premium position lifted his total bWAR to 1.6 despite the fact that he looked lost at the plate for the majority of the year.
Since his demotion to Triple-A, DeJong has actually looked really strong in his first 27 games at the minor league level. In 125 at-bats, DeJong has hit nine home runs and driven in 29 runs with a .246/.296/.546 line. He has brought the strikeouts down and has already more than doubled the number of hits he had in the bigs before his demotion.
What do the Cardinals do with DeJong now that he’s rediscovered his stroke?
Option 1: Call him back up
In DeJong’s absence, super-utility man Tommy Edman has slid over to short and continued his excellent stretch of play.
The Cardinals don’t need to call DeJong up, but promoting him for one last look isn’t a terrible idea. After all, DeJong is a former All-Star and is very well-liked in the St. Louis area. If the Cardinals can bring back Albert Pujols for one last trip of nostalgia, they can afford to let Paul DeJong get one more shot in the bigs.
DeJong rejoining the lineup would likely push Edman back to second base, moving prized prospect Nolan Gorman to a utility role. Gorman is capable of playing second and both infield corners so there is playing time to be had.
Option 2: Trade him
Fortunately for the Cardinals, DeJong is currently playing on a very team-friendly deal. He signed a six-year, $26 million contract extension in 2018 and has this year and next guaranteed.
Any team trading for him would have to keep him around next season but if he is able to turn things around with a change of scenery, he could end up being a steal. DeJong’s contract also includes a team option for a seventh season, one that could be picked up if he can turn things around.
There is a large list of teams out there that would benefit from a Paul DeJong that’s on his A-game including the Yankees, White Sox, Phillies and Padres.
For the Yankees and Padres, an acquisition of DeJong would simply be to get more of a power bat into the lineup in place of Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Ha-Seong Kim. For the White Sox, Tim Anderson has missed time this year due to injury and one of Anderson or DeJong could also DH once Anderson makes his return from the injured list. In the Phillies’ case, he would primarily be a defensive improvement over incumbent shortstop Didi Gregorious, who is the worst defender at shortstop in the game.
Option 3: Give him more time in Triple-A
While DeJong seems to have re-discovered something that’s been missing in his game for the past year-plus, there are still some improvements to be made. In years past, he’s shown the ability to hit for a high batting average (.285 in 2017) and draw plenty of walks (62 in 2019) but both of those numbers have dipped recently in both the majors and minors.
While his power stroke is apparently back in action, he could afford to once again become a contact-oriented hitter. His strikeouts are way up, suggesting that he’s swinging at too many pitches. If he can manage to dial things back a notch and be a bit more patient at the plate, he can sit back and wait on his pitch and either draw a walk or garner more base hits.