Before the 2021 season, I picked Paul DeJong as my x-factor. He was all set for a rebound, and my reasoning for picking him was quite simple:
"A three-headed monster is a lot more dangerous than two, which is why consistent production from DeJong would go a long way towards establishing the Cardinals as contenders."
Well, unfortunately, DeJong struggled. Injuries and career lows at the plate ultimately lost him the starting shortstop position, and he closed out the season coming off the bench. It was a far fall for DeJong, who had been one of the more consistent contributors for the Cardinals since he joined the team in 2017.
I’ve already gone after one of the historic free-agent shortstops. The question becomes what DeJong would be worth in a trade. I remain a firm believer in Paul DeJong, and although I will be trading him, I think he is a prime bounce-back candidate.
DeJong is on a very team-friendly deal ($15 million for the next two seasons, with team options for both 2024 and 2025). In addition, he is a former gold glove winner at a prime defensive position, a very cerebral player capable of making adjustments, and at 28 years old, is only two years removed from being an all-star. I imagine every team that misses out on Seager/Story/Correa and company will be interested in Paul DeJong.
Having chosen to spend on the offense in free agency, I’m looking to acquire starting pitching with a DeJong deal. And three teams that the Cardinals have a history of trading with jump out as potential matches.
First, I’m asking the Cleveland Guardians about Shane Bieber. Yes, it’s a long shot, but you have to start at the top. DeJong wouldn’t acquire the former Cy Young on his own, but packaged with a Zack Thompson and other higher-level prospects, and you might have a deal.
Bieber is arbitration eligible, and the Guardians always have more pitching in the pipeline. As they shed salary, DeJong would be a great fit for their middle infield at either second base or shortstop. St. Louis and Cleveland have dealt often in the past, and this would be a big, splashy move for both teams.
If Bieber or other Guardians starters are unavailable, the next call I would make is to Miami Marlins general manager Kim Ng. First, to congratulate on her on the impressive squad she has built, but second, to ask about some of their young starting pitching. Former St. Louis Cardinal Sandy Alcantara is probably off the table, but with Trevor Rogers, Sixto Sanchez, Edward Cabrera, and more ready for the rotation, might Pablo Lopez be on the market?
25 years old, Lopez had an ERA+ of 136 last season in 20 starts. The Marlins have Jazz Chisholm locked in at shortstop, but I have a feeling Derek Jeter won’t be afraid to acquire an additional shortstop who can hit for power. This could be a fairly straightforward deal.
The last team I’m checking with is the Oakland Athletics. The A’s are (shocker) reportedly looking to trade many of their larger contracts. Matt Chapman and Matt Olsen are the headliners, but there is some solid starting pitching on the market, as well.
Sean Manaea and Chris Bassitt are two solid, mid-rotation veterans that would fit nicely in St. Louis. Both have one-year contracts and pitch to contact. They are prime examples of starters who could thrive with a gold glove defense behind them.
Frankie Montas is the other A’s starter that I would ask about. The 28-year old had the best season of his career in 2021, striking out 207 with an ERA of 3.37 in 32 starts. Bieber is the big name, and Lopez, Manaea, and Bassitt are the most available, but Montas might end up being my top target.
The Paul DeJong market will develop slowly. But starting with these three teams, I think you can adequately address the starting pitching depth this offseason through a trade.