By Issa Cook, from Cardsblog.com
Early yesterday morning, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they had signed their young shortstop Paul DeJong to a six year, $26 million contract. The deal, while certainly controversial, was the largest contract handed out to a player with less than one full year of major league service time. Later in the day, Tommy Pham announced that he was, "not going to sell [himself] short" by signing a two-year deal that the Cardinals had proposed to him.
Now, many Cardinals fans will take sides with one of the parties involved here and say that either the team's offer was too low, the player should have bet on himself more, or the player should have just taken the money.
However, one question that I have not seen being asked is this: Is it possible that all three parties made the right choice in this scenario?? I think this is certainly possible. Let's take a look at each individually.
The Cardinals Front Office
When you look at trends in Cardinals baseball over the past decade, none seems more obvious than the fact that the Cardinals have never been able to find a consistently productive shortstop from either a defensive or offensive standpoint. After the breakout performance by Aledmys Diaz in 2016, many Cardinals fans thought this trend would finally come to a close.
Unfortunately, Diaz struggled mightily in his sophomore season and gave way to another young infielder named Paul DeJong. Now, we all know DeJong as the kid who finished 2nd in National League Rookie of the Year voting and clubbed 25 home runs in his debut season.
The Cardinals are not used to this kind of production at shortstop, and would like to find consistency at that position. This is why the Cardinals front office made the right choice by offering up a six year, $26 million contract to DeJong, who could remain under club control all the way through 2025.
Sure, DeJong is not the perfect player by any means. However, his offensive production and intense knowledge of the game makes this signing feel more like a steal for the Cardinals than a bust. If anything, the Cardinals did well to take a chance on DeJong with this contract.
With Tommy Pham, the Cardinals also made the correct decision. Many may agree with Pham and say the Cardinals made a "disrespectful" offer on a two-year deal. For the 2017 version of Pham, AKA the 5.9 WAR version, this offer is absolutely disgraceful. However, no one knows if the 2017 Pham will show up again. Pham will soon be 30 years old, and baseball aging curves do not treat players who are 30+ very kindly.
Essentially, the Cardinals told Pham to do it again. If I'm John Mozeliak, I would do this as well. Extend the offer as a courtesy and recognition of good performance knowing Pham will say no, and look forward to having to pay him more after a productive 2018 season.
While the young Cardinals shortstop surely has higher aspirations, DeJong made the correct choice in signing this contract yesterday. DeJong is a smart player, and he knows the strengths and weaknesses of his game. As a 24 year-old, he still has the time to improve on his weaknesses such as a lack of plate discipline and a low on-base percentage.
Major league players always are striving to be at the top of their profession, but the reality is that it is a long way to the top and you have to know the business side of baseball as well. Coming off a surprising rookie year, DeJong saw what his predecessor, Aledmys Diaz, did in his sophomore season and realized that the Cardinals offer may be a blessing.
Now, he has a lot of insurance just in case he gets injured or begins to falter in performance. Let's not forget one main thing here people: all of this money is guaranteed for six years. Overall, the Cardinals made a bet that DeJong would make adjustments through six years, and DeJong was wise to cash in as a youngster with much still to prove.
For every reason that DeJong was wise to go ahead and cash in, Tommy Pham was the wiser for betting on himself in 2018. What DeJong has that Pham does not have is youth, and few things are more important in an MLB evaluation than age, which is way more than just a number in baseball.
Pham, as a player nearing 30 years old and coming off a 5.9 WAR season (according to Fangraphs.com), knows that he probably only has one major pay day left in his baseball career. He also knows that if he can put up the same kind of numbers in 2018, he will be a much richer man when he hits arbitration.
People are generally underestimating Tommy Pham, but if he puts up a line of .306/.411/.520 with a 148 wRC+ in back to back seasons, he will undoubtedly be one of the best outfielders in all of baseball. As Pham becomes more respected as a hitter throughout the game, he may end up drawing more walks. This will only increase his OBP and make him even more valuable as a hitter in the middle of the Cardinals lineup.
So, for those who will bash either side in yesterday's contract news, it seems pretty obvious to me that each side made the right call. The Cardinals, as a whole, will get stronger with a motivated Tommy Pham in 2018 and a consistently improving Paul DeJong at shortstop. These two will be playing in St. Louis for a long time, and they sure will be fun to watch.