ST. LOUIS — Feeling that they had been plenty “positive and patient” with Paul DeJong, the Cardinals optioned the struggling shortstop to Triple-A Memphis on Tuesday when “the at-bats looked the same and the adjustment wasn’t coming” and started the process of finding their next long-term shortstop.
On Tuesday, when the Cardinals hosted the Orioles at Busch Stadium for the first time since 2003, the shortstop job fell onto the shoulders of rookie Brendan Donovan, who became the first player since 1900 to make his first four MLB starts at four different infield positions. Tommy Edman, the Gold Glove winner at second base last season, will get more pregame work at shortstop in the coming days and could see time there soon. Also, Edmundo Sosa will finish up a two-game rehab stint at Double-A Springfield on Wednesday and could potentially play for the Cardinals later this week.
As for the status of DeJong, who hit just .130 in 24 games, the Cardinals staff met on the team plane Sunday night on the way home from San Francisco and again in St. Louis on Monday. The decision to option their full-time shortstop since 2017 to the Minors was made prior to Tuesday’s game.
“Those are never easy conversations, and we knew once we were going to explore options at short that it wasn’t a move where you just play the other guy and Paulie sits on the bench; it was going to be a move where he went down,” Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said. “I feel like we were, collectively as an organization, positive and patient through that process. It wasn’t looking any better so the move was made.”
DeJong’s past struggles undoubtedly played a role in the demotion. The shortstop hit 30 home runs in 2019, but he was never able to find that form again while battling wrist and rib injuries. He hit .250 with just three home runs in 2020, and he slumped to .197 in ‘21 while briefly losing the shortstop job to Sosa. DeJong worked all offseason with a hitting coach and showed signs of having a breakout season, especially when he hit an opposite-field home run on Opening Day in a 9-0 victory over the Pirates. However, DeJong’s bat didn’t continue to show progress over the past month, leading to Tuesday’s move.
“It’s not an easy decision, and it’s something the last few days we’ve been agonizing over, but when you think about what’s best for him, what’s best for the organization and this club right now, it was going to be difficult to get him at-bats and get him right and win games at the big league level,” Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said. “Our hope is that he will rejoin this club and be a productive member that we saw prior to the pandemic season. Right now, he understands that he’s got to go down and get his work in and we did not put a timetable on it.
“It comes down to production,” Mozeliak added. “He took it like a pro, and he understood it. That doesn’t mean he was pleased with it, but he understood it. Ultimately, he wants to get himself back here and that’s the hope.”
As much as DeJong struggled at the plate, he thrived defensively this season for a Cardinals team that already features five current Gold Glove winners. Only the Astros’ Jeremy Pena (+7) has more defensive runs saved this season than DeJong (+4). However, he was ultimately undone by the lack of plate progress, Marmol said.
“It was a matter of time based on the amount of opportunities given,” Marmol said of DeJong, who has 72 hours to report to the Memphis Redbirds, who are playing a series in Norfolk, Va. “I think there’s an adjustment that needs to be made both physically and mentally. The ability to go down there and have a reset, he’s going to have to make actual physical change so that the result looks different. The ball will tell you what’s going on and it’s a lot of [popups]. He’s going to have to go down there and show that adjustments are being made and that production is there.”
Marmol said that he has had conversations with Edman – a shortstop in college at Stanford – about working more at that position to ready for a potential switch. The Cardinals had been hesitant to move Edman considering that he has been one of the league’s most productive players offensively and defensively this season.
“Defense is important, but at some point, we have to find the right mix of defense and scoring runs,” Marmol said. “Tommy got some pregame work done today, and he’ll get some more tomorrow. We want to keep that conversation open, for sure. Right now, it’s pregame. Tommy, in talking to him, he’s very comfortable either way [playing shortstop or second base]. He took ground balls and threw across [the diamond] today and felt good about it. He is confident with his ability to play short.”