Paul DeJong say he wants to be a Cardinal for life
Word had already circulated the St. Louis Cardinals spring training complex before the club announced it had extended the contract of second-year shortstop Paul DeJong.
Pressed for comment in the home bullpen at Roger Dean Stadium, manager Mike Matheny could only grin as he sparred with the media.
"Every day is an upbeat day down here," he said.
Less than two hours later, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said everything Matheny couldn't.
“Paul moved quickly through our minor leagues and he had a breakout season last year and has shown all the attributes we look for in a player.” he said. "“We are excited to know that Paul is someone we can build around, and we look forward to seeing him in a Cardinals uniform for years to come.”
The deal includes six guaranteed years with club options for both 2024 and 2025. Financial terms were not disclosed but MLB.com reported its value at $26 million. If confirmed, it would be the richest deal ever awarded a player with less than a full-year of major league service.
"To me I want to be a Cardinal for life, so this deal makes sense for me," said DeJong, 24. "(I can) just go out there and focus on playing baseball for the next, hopefully, eight years, and worry about winning and really worry about money, or how much I'm getting paid or all those other little details of the game."
A fourth-round selection out of Illinois State University in the 2015 draft, DeJong crashed the lineup last year when Aledmys Diaz struggled in his second season and was subsequently demoted to triple-A Memphis. Diaz has since been dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays.
DeJong, meanwhile, added some power to the middle of the Cardinals lineup, hitting 25 home runs in 417 at-bats, which tied Cal Ripken Jr. for the eighth most for a rookie shortstop. He also batted. 285 and showed surprising range at shortstop despite having been brought up through the Cardinals organization primarily as a third baseman.
His OPS-plus (on-base percentage plus slugging) led all big-league shortstops. and his home runs and extra base hits were the second most only to Albert Pujols for a Cardinals' rookie. DeJong finished second to the Dodgers' Cody Bellinger in voting for National League Rookie of the Year.
"When it comes down to it, I'm still going to prepare the same way and play the game hard.," DeJong said following the Cardinals' 2-1 win over the Washington Nationals Monday.. "To me, my status has changed a little bit, but my effort and preparation is not going to change."
Barring some unforeseen misfortune, DeJong will be 11th shortstop to start on Opening Day in the 12 years.
"I got a lot of time last year in big league spring training so I got familiar with the staff and the players so once I got called up it's like I jumped right in and everyone knew me and the type of player I am," he said. "So for the younger guys out there, I'd just say keep playing hard and pay attention to the culture around you and try to contribute to the winning tradition."
DeJong's contract is similar to pre-arbitration deals the team had previously extended pitcher Carlos Martinez and former outfielder Stephen Piscotty, among others. The club sees a win-win in such contracts because, while the player may not receive market rate at the back ends of their contracts, they gain financial security on the front end.
It's an organizational strategy that has had mixed results. Less than a year after signing a six-year extension, Piscotty was dealt to Oakland. Martinez, who could be cinched up through 2023 with club options, is the likely Opening Day starter for the second year in a row.
DeJong's age, versatility, power and intelligence make him attractive to the Cardinals long-term, Mozeliak said.
"When you think of it from an organizational standpoint, we want to reward the players who have come up through our system, who have showed those types of traits we think are important to invest in," Mozeliak said. "He brought all that to the table."
The team also announced it has agreed on one-year contracts for 2018 with 24 players including a renewal with outfielder Tommy Pham.
Agreeing to terms were pitchers Matt Bowman, John Brebbia, Jack Flaherty, John Gant, Austin Gomber, Derian Gonzalez, Conner Greene, Dominic Leone, Josh Lucas, Mike Mayers, Alex Reyes, Ryan Sherriff, Sam Tuivailala and Luke Weaver; catcher Carson Kelly; infielders Greg Garcia, Jose Martinez, Yario Munoz, Edmundo Sosa, Breyvic Valera, Luke Voit and outfielders Harrison Bader, Oscar Mercado and Tyler O’Neill.