I’m not entirely sure what the Cardinals plan to do with Paul DeJong. Yes, I know that John Mozeliak said they weren’t going to cut bait and said some things that might indicate he will be on the 2024 team. On the other hand, the Cardinals are going to start Tommy Edman in pretty much every game at shortstop while having both Brendan Donovan and Nolan Gorman as options for second base. DeJong also has the misfortune of being one of those rare right-handed hitters who are worse against left-handed pitchers in his career.
It’s not that he holds no value. Both Donovan and Gorman are below average fielders and replacing them with DeJong in late innings would improve the defense. But it’s maybe not the most ideal use of $9 million . Maybe there’s another less than desirable one-year contract that could be of more use. While the most likely trade would seem to involve DeJong going for a minor prospect of some sort (while the Cards take on most of his salary), there are a few players where a one-to-one swap could make sense.
2023 projections: 42 G (16 GS), 111 IP, 24.7 K%, 9.2 BB%, 3.87 ERA, 3.98 FIP, 1 WAR
Contract: 2 years, $20 million
The most difficult thing about this particular avenue is... everything. Kikuchi is not a very good pitcher, probably. The Jays do not need a backup shortstop at all. A one-for-one swap won’t work, because Kikuchi has less trade value, actually. What the Jays need is an outfielder.
But the Jays may very well be highly motivated to get rid of Kikuchi’s contract which is for 2023 and 2024. DeJong is off the hook after next year. While he is penciled into the rotation for 2023 by Roster Resource, the latest news update suggests the Jays aren’t ready to commit to him for the rotation. If the Jays can trade Kikuchi while also addressing a weakness, maybe that’s enough.
So here’s an out of the box idea: Paul DeJong and Alec Burleson for Kikuchi and Danny Jansen. According to Baseball Trade Values, Jansen is worth 26 and Kikuchi is worth -18. Burleson is a +12 while DeJong is a -7. So technically, the Cards may need to throw in a minor prospect to even up the deal. Or not, as the Murphy trade was less than Murphy’s value.
The case for Jansen is easy enough, but how about Kikuchi? He obviously wouldn’t start, at least not this year. There are reasons to think he might be good in the bullpen. An expensive bullpen piece, no doubt. As a reliever last year, he struck out 39.8% of hitters while walking 10.8%. He had a 2.28 FIP. And that’s with a 1.96 HR/9. Kikuchi has one huge flaw in his pitching and you can probably guess given the previous sentence: homers. If he gives up homers like a normal pitcher, he’d have an under 4.00 FIP the past three years. His career HR/FB% is 19.7%.
It’s an expensive gamble no doubt. But you also get Jansen in the process. The Jays, by the way, have two players on their bench according to Roster Resource who have never played in the majors. The only backup outfielder is a 28-year-old who has never played in the majors. If they traded Jansen, there’s a good chance Santiago Espinal finds his way into an everyday role, thus allowing DeJong to have some sort of value. And Burleson gives them a much needed fourth outfielder.
The only thing I don’t like is that Kikuchi would take up $11 million on the 2024 roster. If the home run thing is just a temporary thing, which who knows HR/FB% is one of those weird stats where a few seasons worth of data isn’t necessarily indicating a true talent, but if it’s a temporary thing, he’s a useful pitcher and would probably take a spot in the 2024 rotation. Again, this isn’t going to happen, and it’s an out of the box solution, but the Cards get an interesting reliever to throw in the mix who strikes a lot and a way better backup catcher plus a potential 2024 rotation option.
2023 projection: 91 G, 361 PAs, .226/.346/.392, 115 wRC+, 2.4 WAR
Contract: 1 year, $18.5 million
This one actually makes sense. I had to contort some things to make the Blue Jays work. Grandal and DeJong have basically the same trade value however. Grandal is a very interesting backup catcher for one season, who is legitimately one year removed from a 158 wRC+.
Also, the White Sox have not a whole lot of middle infield options. Tim Anderson exists of course.. That’s it. Someone named Remy Gonzalez is the starting 2B on Roster Resource. He is a 26-year-old who has been exactly replacement level through his first 142 PAs, who has a 2.1 BB% and 35.2 K% in those plate appearances. They also have the utility option of Luery Garcia, who had a 39 wRC+ in 315 PAs. Believe or not, DeJong may very well be an upgrade. And he certainly has more upside than those two.
Grandal would be a very pricey backup catcher, making $18.5 million, but it would really be $9 million since you’re swapping contracts with DeJong. That’s the thing that’s going to prevent this from happening really, as you don’t see $9 million backup catchers. But I don’t know how else the Cards will spend the apparently $10-$15 million they can spend otherwise. The downside is... that Grandal repeats his 2022 season. Essentially, his downside is being Andrew Knizner.
2023 Projection: 75 G, 294 PAs, .211/.289/.357, 84 wRC+, 1 WAR
Contract: 2 years, $14.5 million with $7.5 million club option
This perhaps makes a bit less sense than it once did. The Angels traded for Giovanny Urshela, thus sort of addressing the SS situation. But well, here’s the thing. Urshela can’t play shortstop. Oh sure the Angels are going to try. But he’s a bad defensive third basemen. In 4,350 innings at 3B for his career, he has an outs above average of -19 runs. Imagine that guy playing SS. Well he’s their only option right now. Their other middle infielder, Luis Rengifo, has below average defensive numbers at 2B (-8), 3B (-6), and SS (-7) and in the latter two cases, it’s in a little less than 750 innings combined.
They do have David Fletcher, who is kind of like their DeJong already (although probably worse defensively at SS), not being able to hit, but being able to field. He’s never played more than 250 innings at SS in a season. DeJong might make sense in a “throw a bunch of players at the problem, maybe somebody will break out” way. Because Urshela standing at SS seems like a disaster.
Stassi being under contract for two years, as opposed to one, is maybe the only reason this could happen, even though it won’t
2023 projections: 29 G, 29 IP, 27 K%, 9.4 BB%, 3.55 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 0.1 WAR
Contract: 1 year, $10 million
In this one-for-one trade, the Cards would have to take on some of DeJong’s salary. Pomeranz can’t stay healthy. There’s no doubt about it. He didn’t throw in 2022 and he pitched in just 27 games in 2021. He is getting paid $10 million in 2023. Under normal circumstances, i would not pay something like $17 million for a player with Pomeranz’s health issues.
But well, it’s a one-year gamble. And Pomeranz would be, if healthy, a lights-out reliever. It’s the reason the Padres say no to this. But frankly, they have no depth whatsoever, and could actually use a player like DeJong on their bench. Their current bench on Roster Resource is Brett Sullivan (C/OF with 0.00 service time), Matthew Batten (15 career games at 28 with a 23 wRC+), Brandon Dixon (31-year-old with a career 74 wRC+), and David Dahl, an outfielder. Tatis will come back soon, but I mean look at that bench. They need someone else!
2023 Projections: 62 G, 62 IP, 16.1 K%, 8.3 BB%, 4.39 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 0 WAR
2023 Contract: $6 million, with $5 mutual option ($2 million buyout)
I tried to make a Madison Bumgarner trade work, but the main problem is that Bumgarner is very bad at baseball in 2023. He carries such a negative value that combining him with Alek Thomas or Jake McCarthy would still be a net negative trade value. Which sounds like a great opportunity except why are the Diamondbacks making this trade? They aren’t exactly in the blow-it-up stage. Anyway, the trade offer was something like Bumgarner, Thomas for DeJong and like McGreevy. And after you make that trade you cut Bumgarner. But like I said, the Dbacks are kind of up-and-coming so they’re not at “shed every and all payroll at any cost” to my knowledge.
Melancon though, maybe. He was not good last year. He had a 14.7 K%. Not exactly in line with the Cardinals attempting to get high strikeout pitchers. But few relievers display reliever volatility better than Melancon. He had a 14.7 K% in the 2020 season, and a 17.8 K% in the 2018 season. In 2019, it was 23.9% and in 2021, it was 22.3%. Because of his age - 38 - he doesn’t have good projections. But you don’t need to treat him as a high leverage reliever until he proves it. He had 1.1 fWAR and a 2.23 ERA in 2021. Very recently. I like the high risk bullpen options over DeJong on the roster, not necessarily because I’m very anti-DeJong, but I just don’t see the playing time for him in St. Louis for him to get his mojo back. Admittedly an issue in Arizona too, though Nick Ahmed has had injury problems, so I see the potential just a bit more.
Just kidding, I’m just trolling Mets fans on this one, we do not want him. His sole talent is hitting lefties - there aren’t many thing the Cards need less than that. Fun fact by the way: Andrew Knizner in his short career has a 21 wRC+ against left-handed pitchers which is wild. Higher K rate (25.6% to 20.5%), lower BB rate (7% to 9.7%), similar power (.085 to .083). Way worse BABIP. The sample is not great, so probably can’t take this at face value, but lucky for him, Contreras should start against every LHP.
Well there you have it. None of these are likely to happen of course. But of my proposals, which is the most realistic and which is the most desirable?