In optioning shortstop Paul DeJong to Triple A Memphis, the Cardinals took the easiest way out of a jam. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It is smart. It is obvious. Demoting DeJong will give the front office time to ponder decisions on multiple fronts.
President of baseball ops John Mozeliak and manager Oli Marmol are spinning this decision in a predictable way. They’re looking out for Pauly. This is best for Pauly. They are giving Pauly a chance to clear his spinning and overloaded mind and reboot as a hitter. This game is all about getting results, and Pauly was failing. But they aren’t giving up on Pauly. They still have hope in Pauly to reverse the freefall and be that 30-homer dude again.
There was even some talk (from Mozeliak) about DeJong listening to too many voices. This instantly aroused those who always take the chance to rush in and blame hitting coach Jeff Albert for everything wrong with the Cardinals. Intelligent people realize this: the most destructive voice in DeJong’s head is his own voice. But of course, let’s hang this on Albert – who was the team’s batting coach in 2019 when DeJong had 31 doubles, 30 homers, and a .444 slugging percentage.
I’m not criticizing the spin coming from the front office and the manager; what do we expect the bosses to say? There’s no need to dump DeJong now and make a clean break. Not when he’s due a guaranteed nearly $15 million or so between now and the end of the 2023 season.
A huge DeJong comeback at the MLB level wouldn’t qualify as a miracle, but it would be a stunner. Point is, it makes sense to try this before making a more drastic move. Having said that … even if DeJong’s bat remains a chopstick, does anybody really believe the Cardinals will cut ties and absorb the sunken cost of a contract gone bad? Doubtful. I’d be very surprised if DeJong didn’t get another chance with the big club this year, and again in 2023.
It’s going to get really crowded in the middle infield. And by clearing DeJong out of the way for a while, the Cardinals can begin the process of mulling options.
1. Edmundo Sosa will get the first shot at securing the shortstop position. And why not? Sosa got off to a terrible start this season, hitting .160 with a .410 OPS. His strikeout rate is an alarming 42.8 percent. But Sosa had only 28 plate appearances before going on the Covid list, and that isn’t enough to erase or otherwise diminish his performance as a starting shortstop in 2021.
Specifically: 75 starts, 286 plate appearances, .294 batting average, .366 onbase percentage, .429 slugging percentage, .795 OPS, 18 extra-base hits, 14 hit by pitches, and a .275 average in high-leverage at-bats. Sosa doesn’t receive the proper amount of accolades for his defense. Despite logging only 561 innings at shortstop since the start of last season, Sosa is ranked fifth among his peers with nine defensive runs saved. The four shortstops ahead of Sosa in DRS have averaged 1,315 innings since the beginning of 2021.
(If the Cardinals have to go with a stopgap move, I suppose we’d see more of rookie Brendan Donovan at shortstop. He hit a solo homer against the Orioles on Tuesday. But Donovan doesn’t have much experience there; only 25 games at shortstop (combined) in college ball, summer-league ball, and in the minors. Donovan started at short Tuesday in the Cards’ 5-3 loss to Baltimore. In theory rookie Kramer Robertson could get a look as a temporary alternative; he’s played 266 games at shortstop in the minors.)
2. While in Memphis, DeJong visits the late B.B. King’s Blues club on Beale Street, has a therapy session of sorts, and cries his own St. Looie blues away. DeJong rediscovers his mojo, gets a call to come home to the big club, and hits respectably during his second chance. You can laugh all that you want to, but this team doesn’t need DeJong to be Cal Ripken Jr. circa 1991.
The way DeJong plays defense, a respectable offensive performance will work. And what do I mean by “respectable?” This: so far in 2022 MLB shortstops are collectively batting .239 with a .368 slug and .672 OPS. Calibrate your expectations accordingly; Wander Franco isn’t showing up here. J.P. Crawford isn’t on the way. And looking ahead to 2023, Bill DeWitt Jr. isn’t going to throw $400 million at potential free-agent Trea Turner so please don’t torture yourselves by obsessing over a fever-dream fantasy.
3. The most exciting possibility – at least for fans – is shifting second baseman Tommy Edman to shortstop and planting the omnipotent prospect Nolan Gorman at second. As we’ve noted approximately 20,000 times, this would be harmful to the middle-infield defense … which isn’t a good thing for a pitching staff that has the highest ground-ball rate in the majors.
Gorman will be here one way or another this season. If he’s blocked by fellow rookie Juan Yepez in the standing-room-only line at designated hitter, then the Edman-Gorman combo becomes the only way to go. Is it inevitable? It seems that way – even with the Cardinals’ obvious reluctance to sabotage their own pitchers by weakening their infield defense. It’s a question of when.
The front office wants to move slowly on this plan. Moving Edman is hardly a casual, no-brainer call. He’s the reigning Gold Glove winner at second base, and leads the position with 16 defensive runs saved since the start of the 2020 season. This season Edman’s 8 defensive runs saved leads ALL major-league players … as in all positions … as in the best defensive player in the majors right now.
A few observations on Gorman …
– His overall offensive numbers at Memphis are strong and attention-grabbing and include a .673 slugging percentage, 1.030 OPS and hitting a home run every 8.66 at-bats. And the LH-slugging Gorman is pounding RH pitchers for a .349 average, .394 OBP, .788 slug, and 1.182 OPS. And he launches a homer every 7.3 at-bats against righthanders.
– Gorman’s strikeout rate for the season is 34 percent. Over his last eight games, Gorman is batting .200 with a .333 OPS and a 36.3% strikeout rate. How often do you suppose Gorman would strike out in the majors? The front office obviously would like to see Gorman improve his swing-and-whiff problem. He’s done a good job of adjusting at every minor-league level; the Cardinals expect him to do it again at Triple A. This is at least part of their reason for being so patient with Gorman.
– The other part of being patient is Gorman’s defense at second base. The more reps he gets that aren’t in the majors, the better he will be defensively once he advances to the majors. Let’s be adults, disregard the spin, and tell the truth here: there are obvious concerns with Gorman’s “D” at second base.
For now, the Cardinals will sit tight and see what develops before resorting to pressing the Edman-Gorman button. This will take some time, and it’s foolish to count DeJong out. Just remember that the front office is desperate to receive a payoff on their DeJong investment and wouldn’t eat the contract unless there’s no other way out.
Example: Johnny Peralta, after his bat died in 2017. The Cardinals released him in early June and ate the remaining $8 million on his four-year, $52 million contract.
Let the shortstop Hunger Games begin …
THE REDBIRD REVIEW
DeJong Gone; Offense Still Sleepy: In a 5-3 siesta of a loss, the Cardinals made Orioles rookie starting pitcher Kyle Bradish look like the second coming of Jim Palmer. Bradish cranked cutters and sliders for seven innings and left the Cardinals utterly baffled by his straightforward, no-frills pitching. He allowed four hits – and two runs on Harrison Bader’s inside-the-park home run. The Cardinals struck out 11 times in 23 plate appearances against Bradish; that’s a strikeout rate of 47.8%. And when the Cards put the ball in play, 50% were ground balls. That includes two double-play grounders.
In his first two MLB starts leading into Tuesday’s bewildering domination of the Cardinals, Bradish gave up 11 hits and six earned runs in 10 innings (5.40 ERA) against the Red Sox and Twins. And now he’s Palmer. Or maybe Mike Mussina. The St. Louis offense is … strange.
Numbing Numbers: The Cardinals are 16-13 and trail first-place Milwaukee by three games after losing three in a row to the Giants and O’s … the Cardinals have a 7-9 record since April 24 … during the 16-game stretch they’ve scored three runs or fewer 10 times – and two runs or less seven times … The Cardinals have been held to three runs or fewer in 14 of their 29 games this season … and have scored no more than two runs in 11 of their 29 games.
Trouble With Righthanders: After Bradish-Palmer finished his hypnosis session with the mesmerized Cardinals, the Cardinals slipped to 23rd in the majors in slugging (.344) and OPS (.647) against RH pitching. Against lefties the Cardinals lead MLB with a .486 slug and .829 OPS.
Harry Gone Wild: Thank you, Bader, for providing action, energy and a thrill with your adventurous dash around the bases for the first inside-the-yard HR by a Cardinal in a home game since Vince Coleman in 1985. Bader has a 107 OPS+ this season – that’s seven percent above league average offensively. Bader’s 115 OPS+ since the start of the 2020 season ranks 7th among regular MLB center fielders that have at least 500 plate appearances over that time.
The Cardinals Need You, Bro: It was another challenging evening in the batter’s box for Cards left fielder Tyler O’Neill. He went 0-4 with three strikeouts. He came up empty – a game-ending swinging strikeout – with two on in the ninth. O’Neill is batting .198 with a .317 slugging percentage in his 116 plate appearances. That .317 slug ranks 121st this season among 146 hitters that have at least 100 plate appearances so far. Last season O’Neill’s .560 slug was 7th among 135 hitters that had a minimum 500 plate appearances.
Bro’Neill is slugging .438 this month so perhaps he’s putting a little something together. But just as soon as I typed that, I looked down at my notes and remembered that he’s 1 for his last 12 with seven strikeouts. O’Neill’s strikeout rate in May is 41.1 percent.
TRENDING AND TRACKING …
– The Cardinals went with a bullpen game Tuesday to fill Adam Wainwright’s spot as the tall righthander idles on the Covid list. I didn’t understand the choice of Packy Naughton as the starter – and really don’t understand why he was allowed to stay in the game to get popped for a second home run. He went 3.1 innings and gave up five hits, the two homers, and three earned runs.
– Even though the Orioles scored five runs on five STL relievers, the Cardinals still rank 6th in the majors with their average yield of 3.52 runs per game.
– The Cardinals had only two at–bats with runners in scoring position during Tuesday’s defeat. They’re 1 for 11 with RISP in their last two games, both of which were losses.
– Juan Yepez: He wants to stay in the bigs, eh? His first six games in the majors have produced a .455 batting average (10 for 22) and 1.227 OPS.
– Yadier Molina: He stretched his hitting streak to nine games with a sixth-inning double that preceded Bader’s gallop around the bases. Molina is tied with Mike Piazza for sixth place all-time for most hits (2,157) among regular catchers. (Not imposters who spent or spend a lot of time at other positions.) In his last nine games Molina is batting .314 with a .457 slug and .771 OPS and has two doubles and a homer.
– Paul Goldschmidt: Since April 22 he’s batting .369 with a .446 OBP, .539 slug and .984 OPS. That’s the fourth-highest average, sixth-highest OBP, and 11th-highest slug among major-league regulars since April 22.
– In his last five games Nolan Arenado is 3 for 21 with one extra-base hit and has gone 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
– Dylan Carlson is batting .391 over his last eight games with a 1.092 OPS.
– Albert Pujols has 41 plate appearances. Only Edmundo Sosa, Juan Yepez and Brendan Donovan have fewer PA than Pujols among current Cardinals this season. But Yepez and Donovan are recent callups, and Sosa missed time on the Covid list. Pujols has 14 plate appearances in May; only Corey Dickerson (11) and Donovan (9) have fewer PA than The Machine so far this month. Pujols is 1 for 11 with two walks and a hit by pitch in May.
— The Blues have scored 10 goals in their last two games. The Cardinals have scored six runs in their last two games.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie invites you to listen to his opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590-AM The Fan, KFNS. It airs Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m. and Friday from 4-6 p.m. You can listen by streaming online or by downloading the “Bernie Show” podcast at 590thefan.com — the 590 app works great and is available in your preferred app store.
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All stats used here were sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, Stathead, Bill James Online, Fielding Bible, Baseball Savant and Brooks Baseball Net unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.