Charlotte Knights

Benjamin Hochman: As Cardinals look to improve offense, could Edman get more starts at shortstop?

A .206 batting average.

A .297 on-base percentage.

A .403 slugging percentage.

Those were Paul DeJong's stats after May 1.

That's 130 games worth of plate appearances.

He's one of the finest fielders in the league and one of the finest guys in the clubhouse, but the Cardinals must get more offense out of their shortstop position next season. I have faith that a refreshed DeJong will play better next season, but to what degree is hard to project now, before spring has sprung.

The Cardinals have only a few positions where, realistically, they can even try to make a change via a trade: Third base, shortstop and the three outfield spots. Though, the outfield spots will likely be filled internally (and they made a qualifying offer to Marcell Ozuna). And the Cards have a lot of their payroll spoken for in 2020. Not much wiggle room and chance for change. DeJong is part of the 2020 plans.

On Tuesday, two tidbits came out about shortstop, as top Cards executives met with the media to look forward to 2020. The first was president of baseball operations John Mozeliak admitting that DeJong's workload might've taken its toll in 2019. DeJong started 156 games and had 664 total plate appearances, second-most on the team to Paul Goldschmidt (682).

"I can say that is something we discussed," when asked if the workload affected DeJong. "He is one of those types of players who wants to be in the lineup. That's something we have to manage. But clearly his workload was very demanding."

The second tidbit was from general manager Michael Girsch. Both execs talked about how Tommy Edman could become a Ben Zobrist-type utility starter. But Edman (.850 OPS in 349 PA) generally filled holes at third base, right field and second base. Didn't play an inning at shortstop. But Girsch said Edman could be in the mix in 2020.

"Tommy played shortstop in college, played shortstop in the minor leagues," Girsch said. "As he moved up, he moved around the infield more. He's capable of playing shortstop. I think that's something that we'll explore more in spring training, and make sure everyone is comfortable with him there, and I suspect you'll see at short some next year."

The Cardinals finished with a .764 OPS at shortstop last season. That was 14th-best in baseball, and only two playoff teams – Atlanta and Milwaukee – had lower OPS come from shortstop.

Girsch pointed out that "Paul increased his walk rate, he cut his strikeout rate (in 2019). He made progress in a lot of things he was working on heading into the season. He started out hot and then got himself into a rut that he couldn't quite get out of. But if you look at his overall season totals, given the position he plays and how well he plays defensively, I think he's still a huge asset to the team."

His traditional stat line was rather good: 30 homers and 78 RBIs, while finishing as a finalist for the Gold Glove. But looking back, his decline after April was statistically astounding.

OPS per month:

March/April: 1.010

May: .693

June: .655

July: .707

August: .790

September: .655

Postseason: .570

As for Edman, his .850 OPS for the season, if it had qualified, would've been 25th-best in the National League, tied with Trea Turner and just behind Ozzie Albies (Javy Baez, incidentally, was 28th at .847).

Just like I think DeJong will fare a little better than his overall OPS of .762, here's thinking that Edman will fare a little worse than .850. Still, Edman has this surge going into 2020.

"Tommy is one of those types of players that gives you a lot of flexibility," Mozeliak said. "Like internally, we sometimes compared to a Zobrist type where he'll have a lot of different gloves and will find his way into the lineup, and ultimately gives the manager a lot of flexibility, being a switch hitter and playing different positions. So I think as the season unfolds, the key will be trying to keep him given opportunities. ... I don't know if I'd say start every day, but I think he'll get a lot of playing opportunity."

Obviously, if Cleveland's Francisco Lindor is truly available for trade, the Cards should look into it. But you know that if Cleveland was going to trade this brilliant shortstop for prospects, it would surely ask about Dylan Carlson or Nolan Gorman, which brings us back to the same trickiness the Cards faced at the 2019 trade deadline.

During his Tuesday meeting with the media, Mozeliak was asked often about offense. He compared it to an offseason ago. The Cardinals said they needed to improve defense, and did so with six Rawlings Gold Glove finalists (and Kolten Wong winning the Gold Glove). Mozeliak's point was that one player didn't make the Cardinals a way better offensive team – it was a group effort (though, "Goldy" was pretty influential at first). So, as for the 2020 offense, Mozeliak said it won't just be one guy who turns the whole thing around. That is fair. But DeJong and third baseman Matt Carpenter have the biggest room for improvement offensively, acknowledging their ceilings.

The left side of the infield is in the spotlight – and under the microscope.

  Comments