In an interview with the St. Louis Post Dispatch early Sunday, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong made apparent that he would rather be traded than platoon at second base. (He later softened his stance, and the Post-Dispatch updated its article with his new quotes in the link above.) The instant reaction I see from Cardinals fans across social media is “trade him,” “Wong needs to go,” and “not a team player.” In all honesty, though, can you blame the guy?
After being the 22nd overall pick by the Cardinals in the 2011 draft, Wong has become somewhat of a controversial player among Cardinals fans. One half has always believed in him and maybe always will (myself included), while the other half is waiting to criticize him at a moment’s notice. The Cardinals reinforced their faith in him by giving him a five-year, $25.5 million contract last offseason, basically stating that he would be a part of the Cards middle infield for years to come.
That lasted just over a month or two into last season, when, after Wong hit a little bit of a rough patch, he began to see his playing time fade before eventually being optioned to the minors. This past offseason, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak once again showed his belief in Wong by stating that he would be the everyday second baseman. All winter, the Cardinals said publicly that they wanted to improve defensively, athletically, and not be as reliant on the home run, all things Wong could help with instead of playing Jedd Gyorko again. Instead, after accumulating a .182/.265/.250 slash line this spring, St. Louis has pivoted once again.
Watching virtually every Cardinals game for the past couple of years, I can tell you that Wong has the talent and needs to be the Opening Day second baseman. I don’t care if he has to hit from his weak side that night against Jon Lester (a lefty) or if he ends up putting up an 0-for-4. The best chance for the Cardinals to win is with his defense and athleticism. Spring training numbers are not indicative of much, after all, but it seems as if manager Mike Matheny and his staff will be basing this franchise-changing decision on one month of meaningless games. I at least believe Wong should get the nod to play through April before a decision is made on that front.
For me, it is more of a concern whether Wong is in the right place mentally. We’ve seen him struggle to rebound from tough times before, and these quotes are just the latest example of his inner struggles. Can we blame Wong for being upset, though? If your boss told you that you would be taking the lead on a project and instead pulled you from that without a good reason, you too would be upset. Matheny toying with him every day, including last year’s debacle in the outfield, might have ruined him for good.
Wong does pose the talent to be an everyday player in the major leagues. It is now just a question of whether that future will be wearing the Birds on the Bat.