Kolten Wong was supposed to be the second basemen of the future in St. Louis. Before the 2016 season, he signed a five-year contract extension worth $25.5 million, committing himself to the Cardinals organization. Now, that future looks a bit cloudy, as his recent comments seem to indicate.
The Cardinals Treatment of Kolten Wong
Over the weekend, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny was speaking about the team’s finalized 25-man roster to open the season. With Jhonny Peralta having won the starting third base job this spring, Matheny stated that Jedd Gyorko – the team leader in home runs a season ago – would still see solid playing time, and indicated that Kolten Wong could possibly be a candidate for a platoon role with Gyorko.
After hearing of this for the first time and in speaking with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Wong seemingly did not take all too kindly to the news:
“I was told that I was going to be the starting second baseman. If that’s what they want to do, then that’s their decision. The thing with me, and my frustrations is that, I think when you give someone a contract and you expect him to be the guy, you should have belief in that guy. It’s hard when you don’t feel that belief. But it is what it is. If that’s the case, then I’ll be ready to do what I gotta do to help the team win.”
As reports circulated that Wong would rather seek a trade to be an everyday starter than platoon in St. Louis, he clarified his comments:
“I didn’t mean it for me to come off seeming like I wanted to be traded or wanted to get out of this organization. I love playing for the Cardinals. If that wasn’t the reason, then I never would have signed that extension. I wanted to be here for the long term. I still want to.”
Ups and Downs
This offseason, it appeared as though both Wong and the Cardinals were recommitted to the idea of him being the regular starter at second base. Although he was coming off a down year (slash line of .240/.327/.355), he had shown promise and remarkable potential in the past. He finished third in NL Rookie of the Year voting in 2014, and was considered by some an All-Star snub in 2015, ultimately finishing that season with a .262 batting average, 11 home runs, 61 RBI, and 15 stolen bases, with flashes of spectacular defense thrown in.
Last season was a different story for the young infielder. Wong came into the season with a new contract and a starting spot locked up well into the future. He struggled out of the gate and scuffled through April and May, eventually earning a demotion to Triple-A for a couple of weeks in the summer. The Cardinals impatience through his growing pains, and the fact that this impatience persists, frustrates Wong, it would seem.
He is still a young player who is trying to put it all together at the plate, and it is concerning to the Cardinals unwillingness to let him work through his problems with consistent playing time. Wong’s situation is reminiscent of another current Cardinal, Randal Grichuk, who has been a similar victim of the same kind of inconsistent and impatient behavior of the Cardinals upper management. That, however, is another conversation entirely.
After a tough start to the 2016 season, Wong seemed to loosen up some by the end of the year and show once again why St. Louis wants him in the long-term. His speed, agility, fielding ability, and potential at the plate offer a possible upper-tier second basemen for the team’s future. Thus, he was once again told this offseason that he would be the regular second basemen for the Cards.
Even though his Spring Training stats have not necessarily been tremendous, Wong still deserves the opportunity to prove his worth during the regular season. It is hard for a anyone to find consistency at the plate – the one thing Wong is lacking – when not afforded regular plate appearances. That was the frustration that Wong relayed in his mini-rant on the platoon idea, and is something the Cardinals need to seriously consider.
If they truly want Kolten Wong to maximize his potential and be the future second basemen for their team, they need to give him the chance to do so with steady, meaningful at-bats in the regular season. If not, and they feel like Gyorko (who also needs to play, by the way) should carve out significant playing time at second base rather than third, then they need to make a decision on Wong’s future – because they cannot continue this same routine again next season.