3:05 PM: The Cardinals have selected the contract of infielder Kramer Robertson to fill DeJong’s spot on the 26-man roster, the team announced. It’ll be the first taste of the bigs for the versatile 27-year-old.
Drafted out of LSU by the Cardinals in the fourth round of the 2017 amateur draft, Robertson has steadily worked his way through the St. Louis system, posting consistently solid numbers at each level. While he’s never had a ton of power, he has shown the ability to get on base, compiling a .248/.357/.369 triple-slash across five minor-league seasons. Across 100 plate appearances for Triple-A Memphis this year, he’s posted a .225/.380/.400 line.
With Edmundo Sosa likely returning from the COVID IL sooner than later, it could be a relatively short stay in the bigs for Robertson, but the fact he’s been added to the Cardinals 40-man roster could indicate a longer stay. For the time being at least, he’ll serve as the Cards’ primary backup at second, third, and shortstop — potentially sharing time with Brendan Donovan in that role when Sosa returns.
2:21 PM: The Cardinals have optioned shortstop Paul DeJong to Triple-A Memphis, The Athletic’s Katie Woo reports (Twitter link). This clears the path for Tommy Edman to likely take over as the Cards’ regular shortstop.
With only a .130/.209/.208 slash line over his first 86 plate appearances of the season, DeJong’s offensive struggles have become too large for the Cardinals to overlook, even though his typically excellent glovework is still strong. For a team that prizes defense as heavily as the Cards, DeJong’s ability in the field has given him a lot of leeway as a lineup regular, even as his offense has been in decline.
DeJong’s best offensive year is still his 2017 rookie season, as he finished second in NL Rookie Of The Year voting, and the Cards locked him up with a six-year, $26MM contract extension. This was the largest (at the time) contract ever given to a player with under a year of MLB service time, and it isn’t like the extension was a real miscalculation, as per Fangraphs’ calculations, DeJong’s career $8.9 fWAR has been worth $70.9MM over his career.
However, DeJong’s power (74 homers in 2017-19) papered over his lack of average and OBP, but his slugging numbers have dramatically tailed off over the last three years. The result is a 79 wRC+ over 662 PA since the start of the 2020 season.
Edmundo Sosa is currently on the COVID-related injured list, but has started a minor league rehab assignment and appears to be close to a return to St. Louis. That will provide some additional depth at shortstop, plus Brendan Donovan can also play second base, giving the Cardinals some flexibility up the middle.
Edman and Sosa have also both looked good defensively at shortstop, albeit in smaller sample sizes at the big league level. It is possible that moving DeJong wouldn’t lead to that much of a dropoff in glovework at shortstop, though since Edman is himself a reigning Gold Glove winner at second base, the Cardinals undoubtedly have some concern over whether they’d be weakening themselves at several positions. Sosa essentially came out of nowhere to be a solid contributor to the 2021 team, but his limited track record in the majors or minors perhaps makes him something of a risk as a true everyday player.
Of course, the real x-factor here is Nolan Gorman, as the star second-base prospect is crushing Triple-A pitching. It has become apparent that Gorman doesn’t have much left to prove in the minors, and St. Louis hasn’t traditionally been hesitant about calling up star prospects for important roles. Having Edman, Sosa, and Donovan all on hand takes some of the pressure off Gorman to contribute right away, and it also isn’t out of the question that DeJong could return to the mix if he gets on track in the minors.
St. Louis still owes DeJong the remainder of his $6MM salary for the 2022 season, plus $9MM for 2023. The Cardinals have a $12.5MM club option for 2024 that looks like a sure thing to be declined, with DeJong receiving a $2MM buyout. While not a huge sum, if the Cards are really ready to move on from DeJong entirely, they could explore trying to move him before the trade deadline, possibly for another team’s undesirable contract.