The St. Louis Cardinals took a reasonable gamble on up and coming shortstop Paul DeJong well beyond his arbitration years with a contract that guarantees the second-year player more than $26 million.
If DeJong turns into a superstar, the deal will be an absolute steal. And if DeJong turns out to be a dud, it’s a deal that won’t hamstring the club for the future. There isn’t much to lose when it comes to DeJong and there is a lot to gain.
The only problem with the deal isn’t likely to come from the guy who signed the contract. It’s much more likely to come from the one who didn’t get the security of guaranteed riches, outfielder Tommy Pham.
Pham went public with the fact that he was offered — and rejected — a two-year pact that he found to be far below his expectations. He also groused out loud that he was disappointed the Birds chose to renew him for 2018 at just $20,000 more than the major league minimum after his breakthrough season.
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On one hand, as great as DeJong was as a rookie, I can see why Pham is irked because he was the best player on the team last year but the Cardinals didn’t make him it’s top internal priority. He’s also got a longer track record than DeJong. I’m sure it’s difficult to work for a team for several years and not get a long-term offer while a guy who played only two-thirds of a season in the big leagues suddenly is set for life. DeJong could have $51 million in pocket before he hits the free agent market several years from now. Pham hits his first year of arbitration after 2018 and will likely have to go year-to-year because of his age (he’ll be 30 this season) and his degenerative eye condition.
On the other hand, can Pham blame the Cardinals for being cautious with him? Prior to 2017, he failed in several other attempts to stick in the big leagues, either because of injuries or inconsistent play. It’s not the front office folks’ fault that Pham is a very late bloomer or that he’s been brittle to this point in his career. If it was my neck on the line, I don’t think I would go to ownership and make the case for giving a guy a five or six-year contract when, prior to last year, he was a career .244 hitter who averaged only 119 plate appearances during the preceding three seasons. Why would you when you can control his rights for five years through the arbitration process without making the financial commitment?
So, it’s unfortunate that Pham spouted off that he doesn’t think St. Louis showed him the proper appreciation and that he wouldn’t sell himself short by taking the Cardinals’ two-year offer. If he wants to pass on the guaranteed money, that’s up to him. But it doesn’t do anyone any good to complain about it. I can appreciate that Pham plays with pride and he believes in himself. But he risks alienating his teammates by making DeJong and his allies on the club uncomfortable around him. It must be tense if you’re Dexter Fowler who has never enjoyed the kind of season Pham had last year but, because of circumstances is the proud owner of an $85-million contract.
The only thing Pham can do to up his value and make up for his lost earning power is to prove that 2017 was no fluke and put up seasons of 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases during each of the next four years. It’s counterproductive to do anything else, like feuding with the front office or alienating his teammates.
Historically, these deals haven’t been good for the Cardinals. They signed Allen Craig to a prospective contract and he promptly went from a promising young start to an enigmatic dud. Then they signed Kolten Wong to a long-term deal to give him security and, instead of punching his ticket to the All-Star Game every year, he’s been punching his ticket on the Memphis shuttle. Then the birds inked Stephen Piscotty to a long deal and nearly instantly regretted it. But they have been able to trade the worst two of those three deals and could still come out ahead on Wong if he finally blossoms into the player he seems capable of being.
These are the kinds of risks team that want to grow their own players have to take. Otherwise, your kids are saying goodbye through free agency right after they establish themselves in the big leagues. Despite the fact that this deal has some risks, it was a no-brainer for St. Louis.