The St. Louis Cardinals‘ shortstop position was an interesting tale in 2021. Going into spring training there was little doubt about who would be starting at short. Paul DeJong was the default starter. He got off to a slow start in the spring but showed signs of life towards the end of camp. Manager Mike Shildt said “Paul will be just fine” in response to DeJong’s spring slump. The often-correct Shildt, unfortunately, missed the mark on that one. DeJong’s slump not only continued into the regular season but also worsened. Through the first three series of the year, he was 3-31 (.097), with all three of those hits coming in the first 2 games. He also had 12 strikeouts in those 31 at-bats and a paltry .059 BAbip. He did hit 5 home runs in April, a positive sign that his power potential was still a threat.
The struggles continued through the rest of April and he finished the opening month of the season with a .165 batting average and 27 strikeouts in 85 at-bats. The first half of May went better, but only slightly. From May 1 to May 12 DeJong posted a .205 average with 2 home runs. During a game with the Brewers on May 12, DeJong was hit in the left ribs by a Freddy Peralta changeup. The injury would ultimately sideline him until June 11. The Cardinals initially called up Max Moroff to fill DeJong’s role, but he produced little in his short time and ultimately suffered a season-ending left shoulder subluxation. Enter Edmundo Sosa.
Until May 16, Sosa had only started two games all year and was only hitting .167. After DeJong’s injury and Moroff not producing, Sosa got the chance to be an everyday starter and he took advantage of it. From May 16 through June 9, Sosa slashed .286/.360/.390 with two home runs and six runs batted in. While he didn’t set the world on fire, he certainly did enough to insert himself into the conversation for more starting time, even after Paul DeJong returned from the injured list.
DeJong returned on June 11 and promptly resumed his struggles. He slashed .148/.248/.315 during the rest of June as the Cardinals’ everyday starter. With DeJong’s ongoing struggles, Sosa continued to see significant starting time. This pattern of splitting time continued for the rest of the year. From June 11 to the end of the year, the Cardinals played 100 games. Paul DeJong started 65 of them at shortstop, and Edmundo Sosa started 35 of them at shortstop.
Looking Ahead to 2022
With the year coming to a close after a loss in the NL Wild Card game, attention turns to next year, with a bright spotlight on how personnel decisions regarding shortstop will play out. The Cardinals have several ways to address this issue. There are two obvious ones: first, sign a free agent. The market this year will be deep at the shortstop position, making this a strong possibility. But it would mean not being able to spend as much money elsewhere, like on pitching. The second approach solves this problem- don’t do anything. Give the DeJong and Sosa duo another year to see if they can produce more. While this likely has a low ceiling, it allows the Cards to spend money on some much-needed pitching reinforcements.
There are some other, more unique and aggressive, approaches the team could take to fill the role. One would be to slide Tommy Edman to short and give the Cardinals’ top prospect Nolan Gorman a shot at second base. While not his primary position, Tommy has played 122 innings of shortstop throughout 2020 and 2021, making only 2 errors to the tune of a .973 fielding percentage. What’s more, based on his small sample size, he projects to save a mind-boggling 45 runs above average over the course of 1,200 innings. That defensive pace is unsustainable, however, it goes to show how strong he is at short. Nolan Gorman is widely believed to be big-league ready both offensively and defensively. This would be a viable solution to the Cardinals’ problem if they are not looking to sign a big-name shortstop.
Another option the team could pursue is to use spring training to assess if one of the teams’ several minor league infielders could be an option. Kramer Robertston is highly touted defensively and was a member of the Cardinals’ taxi squad for the playoffs. While he is still searching for consistency at the plate, he has shown sneaky power and a knack for clutch RBI. To say that he would flat-out beat Paul DeJong or Edmundo Sosa out is a stretch, but don’t be surprised if during spring training Kramer Robertson plays his way into being in the conversation, assuming a free agent isn’t signed.
Lastly, a trade is always a possibility. With two club option years left on Paul DeJong’s contract, a team with young talent not quite ready for the big leagues could be interested in using DeJong as a stop-gap until their prospects are ready. The Blue Jays are one such team, with Marcus Semien likely signing elsewhere, and top prospect Orelvis Martinez still at least a couple of years from being big-league ready. Trading Paul DeJong and/or Edmundo Sosa for prospects, and filling the shortstop position internally, is not out of the question. Trading for a shortstop seems unlikely as that would mean giving up pitching prospects, which the Cardinals are unlikely to do. Don’t expect to be on the receiving end of a shortstop trade, but don’t be shocked to be the team sending away a shortstop.
As of now the St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop in 2022 is to be determined. There is no shortage of possibilities to address the position, and plenty of quality players the Cards will need to sort through to decide what their best route is. Given the Cardinals’ pattern in offseasons past, it is likely fans won’t know who their 2022 shortstop will be until well into the winter. It could be intensely dramatic or quietly anticlimactic. Whatever decision Mozeliak and the front office team decide to make regarding who will be the St. Louis Cardinals’ shortstop in 2022, it will undoubtedly play a huge role in the success of next year’s team.
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