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Paul DeJong improves White Sox’ infield defense but does little to inspire contention in 2024

Vinnie Duber Avatar
November 28, 2023
Paul DeJong

Chris Getz keeps doing what he said he’d do this offseason.

But there appears to be a reason he has, to this point, refused to set the goal of his White Sox competing for an AL Central title in 2024.

Paul DeJong is the newest addition to the White Sox’ roster, a Chicago-area kid and Illinois State University product coming aboard Tuesday as Getz’s first-ever free-agent signing. DeJong, who inked a one-year deal worth $1.75 million, figures to be the team’s new starting shortstop, succeeding Tim Anderson and providing a defensive and power upgrade to the two-time All Star the White Sox declined to bring back earlier this offseason.

DeJong has a 30-homer season under his belt, though that came back in 2019, the last time he was even a league-average hitter, statistically. He made the NL All-Star squad that season and played in 159 games for the Cardinals. Since, however, his offensive numbers have been far from impressive, with OPS-plus marks of 87, 85, 52 and 66 in the last four years, which featured far fewer games played.

Of course, Anderson’s offensive numbers were atrocious in 2023, and the 14 homers DeJong hit playing for three different teams last season were 13 more than the one ball Anderson sent over the fence.

Who knows if DeJong will be able to recapture his 30-homer power stroke on the South Side. Closer to a certainty is his defense, something Anderson struggled with during his White Sox career and the primary focus of Getz’s offseason work.

“(We are going to) set out to really improve our defensive play, which will allow our pitchers to attack the zone and be more efficient,” Getz said earlier this month at the GM meetings in Arizona. “We need to become more athletic, and that speaks to the improved defense, we hope, and obviously running the bases, taking extra bases, those types of things.

“We made too many mistakes through the years. When certain plays aren’t being made, it’s a traumatic feeling for a team, it’s a traumatic feeling for pitchers. I really want to just settle back down so pitchers are comfortable attacking the zone and outs are made where they are supposed to be made.”

DeJong will be part of that improved defense. While defensive stats can be a bit all over the place, he’s been a positive presence, according to Defensive Runs Saved, throughout his career. The Outs Above Average metric can’t seem to make up its mind, counting DeJong as both a wildly positive and a wildly negative defensive shortstop, depending on the year.

Numbers aside, though, his reputation is as a strong defender, and along with Nicky Lopez, who Getz acquired in a trade with the Braves earlier this month, the White Sox are off to a productive start when it comes to improving their infield defense.

But DeJong isn’t the type of addition that will rev fans up, not those outside of Antioch, anyway. And that is in line with what’s quickly becoming the expectation for Getz’s front office this winter.

It was going to be a monumental task to turn the White Sox from a 101-loss team into a division contender in a few months, and it seems Getz might not even have his eye on such an outcome. While he did good work bringing in five players for Aaron Bummer in that aforementioned trade, none of them arrive with the expectation of setting the world on fire, a group of potential reclamation projects, good defenders and guys who weren’t going to get much opportunity with the 104-win Braves. DeJong is also someone who has struggled to return to the glory days of his early career with the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, trade rumors surrounding staff ace Dylan Cease fly, and there’s speculation that Eloy Jiménez could leave town in a trade, as well. Luis Robert Jr. would seem less likely to depart after an MVP-type campaign, though at least one national writer is already suggesting trading him might be the best thing Getz could do for the White Sox’ future.

Such moves paint the well known picture of a rebuild, however brief it’s intended to be this time, and Getz has done plenty to signal his desire to give the organization a significant makeover and improve its long-term prospects.

And speaking of prospects, DeJong could be merely a placeholder for Colson Montgomery, the 21-year-old shortstop ranked as the No. 17 prospect in the sport. He’s impressed with his bat, but questions remain regarding his defensive ability, which is obviously a focal point for Getz, and whether he’ll stick at the shortstop position long term.

“There’s different styles of playing the position,” Getz said in Arizona. “You look at Corey Seager with Texas, a bigger body. Fairly or unfairly, Colson gets compared to him, just because of the size and being a left-handed hitter. But you look across the diamond with Texas: (Josh) Jung, (Seager), (Marcus) Semien and (Nathaniel) Lowe at first base. At least three of those guys aren’t the rangiest of defenders, but they make the plays that are supposed to be made.

“Once Colson is consistent on the routine play — he is athletic, he is showing ranging ability. But really, it’s just having steady defenders across the diamond and all spots in the outfield, as well. It allows our pitchers to do a lot more and be more efficient and keep pitch counts down just by attacking the zone, knowing their defense can make plays.”

Right now, though, the road ahead for the White Sox seems to include Montgomery at shortstop, so DeJong’s presence at that position might be relatively short — potentially over before the end of the 2024 campaign — contributing to the less-then-exciting feeling among fans his arrival has generated. Expect DeJong to be there when the season starts in late March, at least, as Getz said earlier this month that the team has had no conversations about Montgomery making the roster out of spring training.

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