The Cardinals’ primary shortstop for the last half decade won Player of the Week honors, but he did so for the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
Most players would be thrilled to receive a Player of the Week award. It’s indicative of a strong performance burst, demonstrating what that player is capable of at his very best. Of course, most players who have been in the major leagues for more than five seasons would prefer to receive the MLB version of the award, not the International League one.
St. Louis Cardinals infielder Paul DeJong had a very nice seven-day stretch over the July 11-17 period, batting .364/.500/.773, ripping three home runs, driving in 11 runs, and scoring seven times over six games. Amazingly, every one of his eight hits on the week drove it at least one run. DeJong came up extremely clutch against the Nashville Sounds.
The problem is, DeJong is being paid over $6M this season to be a major league shortstop, and after starting the season with a dreadful .130/.209/.208 line in 86 plate appearances, he was demoted to Triple-A on May 10. It’s obvious how awful that 2022 big league line is, but put another way, it yielded a 21 OPS+, which is 79% worse than an average hitter.
Barring a return to the majors later this year and significant improvement at the plate, this will be the fifth consecutive season DeJong’s OPS+ has declined. During his rookie campaign in 2017, his mark was 121, when he hit 25 home runs and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. The next season, it was 102, DeJong’s last season of above-average hitting.
In 2019, his 99 OPS+ was still quite respectable considering his strong defense, and that year represented his first – and so far, only – All-Star appearance. The shortened 2020 campaign saw DeJong hit for an 87 OPS+, followed by an 85 mark in ’21, when his batting average sank to .197.
Despite his heroics last week, DeJong is batting just .236/.300/.511 for the Memphis Redbirds. Yes, he’s hitting for some nice power, but his average is unimpressive, and he’s not reaching base often, walking just 18 times against 49 strikeouts in 207 plate appearances.
With nearly $9.2M due him next season, the Cardinals’ only real options are to leave him in Triple-A, give him a long leash in the majors (while competing for a title), or find a trade partner to take him off their hands. That last option most likely would be in return for a similar bad contract, with each team hoping for the classic change-of-scenery improvement.
A modicum of congratulations are due DeJong, who apparently has not gotten so discouraged that he’s mailing it in at the Triple-A level. But at the same time, he needs to continue to play at last week’s award-winning level in the minors if he hopes to return to The Show any time soon.