What should the Cardinals do with the red-hot Paul DeJong?
As Cardinals fans know lately, Paul DeJong has been resurging into the All-Star caliber shortstop we have seen many years ago. After nearly a half-decade of underperforming, multiple demotions to work on his swing, and losing his starting job, DeJong is better than ever. So with the team starting to turn things around, the Cardinals have some decisions to make. We will discuss the decision in regard to Paul DeJong.
Tommy Two Bags
Tommy Edman came onto the scene in 2019 and has arguably been the best player for the Cardinals since then. He can play anywhere on the field and continues to do so at a high level. He won the starting shortstop position in 2021 and has owned it. Given he is under contract until 2026, the team will not move Tommy anywhere, unless it can get them a top-tier pitcher. Even if he is moved, it will be to promote Masyn Winn. Winn is the future along with Jordan Walker and Nolan Gorman so he will be in St. Louis quicker than you’d expect. Luckily the Cardinals can play Edman in a super-utility role to keep his presence on the field.
With Masyn Winn on the rise, Tommy Edman will be pushed out of his shortstop role regardless. So he can move to second base…right? That will be the toughest decision for John Mozeliak is deciding on who will be the future at Second Base. Brendan Donovan won a gold glove at 2nd in his first season and dazzled with the glove anywhere on the field. He, like Tommy Edman can be moved anywhere but can create instability with lineups. Nolan Gorman is the surefire pick to be the starting 2nd baseman until Nolan Arenado retires from baseball where Gorman will be in his prime ready to handle the hot corner. So depth is plenty deep in the middle infield.
And there is Paul DeJong
Now we are left with Paul DeJong. He is currently slashing ..289/.366/.627 (170 OPS+) with 8 HR, 18 RBIs, and a 1.4 WAR. As crazy as it sounds, DeJong might be the team MVP so far in 2023. This resurgence is unexpected, but a welcomed one. Fans are accustomed to seeing Paul DeJong come back from Memphis and get hot really fast before flaming out in 2 weeks. It has been an eye-roll affair since 2019. But in 2023…..it's a head turn. In what feels like the final chance at saving his career, DeJong has shown resilience and shows he wants to finish his contract in St. Louis.
Let's talk about the contract. He is owed until 2025 with a team option at the end of the 2023 season. He will be owed 12.5 million in 2024 and 15 million in 2025. Given the paragraphs above, you can see the writing on the wall. Paul DeJong will not be back next season. The team has made decisions like this before, the latest being Kolten Wong. With the impressive showing so far in 2023, do you trade DeJong at the deadline? Or do you keep that bat in your lineup to keep winning ball games and get back in the NL Central race?
DeJong will not get you a top-tier pitcher. But what he can get you is a depth piece that can provide stability to this shaky rotation. Lucas Gilioto is in a walk year and seems to be a popular trade candidate going into the trade deadline. Maybe the Cardinals can make DeJong available for a pitcher like Giolito and use their overloaded outfield to make a move for the ace they need.
Or Mozeliak will continue to squeeze every last ounce of juice out of the lemon. It would be foolish to remove one of your best bats out of the lineup when the team is finally turning its season around. The NL Central is weak and it is open for any team to win. The Cardinals are best suited to win it and need all resources to do so. Will they value DeJong’s 2023 performance over getting pitching help? Or will this team continue to struggle without reliable arms? Whatever route they chose, they know Paul DeJong is riding into the 314 sunset.