JUPITER, Fla. — Less than a year after making his big league debut, Paul DeJong was rewarded with a long-term deal. And that was worth hugs all around.
The shortstop and the St. Louis Cardinals agreed Monday to a $26 million, six-year contract that includes team options for 2024 and 2025.
"It gives me a sense of security, just knowing that I'm going to be here and kind of just confirms my thoughts about wanting to be a Cardinal for my life," DeJong said. "To me to be able to sign a potentially eight-year deal just seems like I'm cementing myself in the Cardinals organization. I don't ever want to leave."
The 24-year-old hugged his parents and grandparents before the news conference to announce the deal.
DeJong made his major league debut last May 28 and hit .285 with a team-high 25 homers and 65 RBIs in 108 games. He was selected by St. Louis from Illinois State in the fourth round of the 2015 draft.
DeJong played only 246 minor league games. Batting mostly third, he hit .298 with eight homers in July.
"As you know, we're committed to winning at the major league level through scouting and player development, and Paul is a great example of this," owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said.
DeJong's deal covers up to four years of arbitration eligibility and the options extend to two years of free agent eligibility.
St. Louis started nine different shortstops over the past 10 opening days, including Pete Kozma (2013), Rafael Furcal (2012), Ryan Theriot (2011) and Khalil Greene (2009).
"My time with the Cardinals, we've always been searching for that shortstop," said John Mozeliak, who has headed the team's baseball operations for 11 years. "This does give us the level of comfort that we have signed someone that we know can play there for a long time."
DeJong is 3 for 14 with a double and two RBIs so far this spring training.
"I'm just really happy about how this is working out and really excited to play Cardinals baseball long term," DeJong said.
Cardinals center fielder Tommy Pham knows the numbers. He has a feel for how much the analytics adore his production, is aware of how his 2017 season was unlike any other in Cardinals history, and can name the players who did some of the things he did (see: Trout, Mike). He can recite each of the stats on the back of his baseball card and also explain how he intends to improve each of them.
But all of that was secondary Monday to something else he’s knows well.
Baseball is a business.
And sometimes it has bite.
The Cardinals announced Monday that they renewed Pham. That means the Cardinals and their center fielder were unable to come to an agreement on his salary for the 2018 season, so the Cardinals used their right to impose a salary on him. They could have tagged him with the minimum. They awarded him a $570,000 salary — one of the largest for a third-year player.
Discussions with the team about a two-year deal never really gained traction, Pham said. He signed the renewal notice Monday.
“I know what numbers I need to put up, to reach, whatever I’m willing to reach,” Pham said. “I’m from Vegas. I’m a betting individual.”
A two-year deal didn’t interest Pham because he will be arbitration-eligible next winter, and with his service time and games played he could get a relative windfall. When he reaches arbitration he will have all of his production at his back as his platform for his salary. That includes this past season when he stole more than 20 bases, hit more than 20 homers, and had a batting average better than .300, while also slugging better than .500.
He was the first player in the Cardinals’ 127 years to have that combination of counting stats and rates.
“If you look at what I did last year, I didn’t think there was a great amount of appreciation,” Pham said. “So I took the renewal.”
In another discussion with a small group of media members that included St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Jesus Ortiz, Pham also said this about the potential two-year offer from the team: “The numbers didn’t add up to me and my agency and the union. Nothing made sense. I didn’t think. It’s business first and foremost. I didn’t like it. The numbers didn’t seem right. I wouldn’t sell myself short like that.”
The Cardinals, like many teams, use an internal algorithm to set their offers for players with fewer than three years of service time. This formula is shared with agents to illustrate how the team arrived at its offer and why it was unlikely to change. Discussions happen. Sometimes multi-year deals like DeJong’s emerge from those conversations, and sometimes the player’s agent argues against the algorithm used. In Pham’s case, he could argue that the algorithm didn’t take into account a number of things about his season or his career, thus far.
One would be how he produced at Class AAA, and he made the point Monday that he came a few days shy of being arbitration eligible because he was in the minors, cracking out production, for a few extra days.
The Cardinals have not had a renewal since 2008 when they renewed pitcher Anthony Reyes and also renewed Adam Wainwright. The latter’s renewal didn’t cause any consternation because it was prelude to an extension.
Pham reiterated that he’s confident he’ll turn this year into the salary he’s chasing. He stressed that he treats baseball as a business, so he knows what’s possible — for himself, and, as he had happen Monday, by the team. He said the Cardinals’ offer wasn’t “strong enough.”
“I wouldn’t sell myself short,” he said.