When the St. Louis Cardinals announced earlier this week that they had agreed to terms on a $25.5 million, 5 year deal with second baseman Kolten Wong, it was more than just locking up a young player who had plenty of potential. The Cardinals committed at a position that they really haven’t shown much commitment at over the past thirty or so years.
To find a second baseman who had been the Cardinals’ regular second baseman for more than three years in a row, you need to go back to the 1980s. Tom Herr did the job from 1981 until he was traded in 1988. In the 28 seasons since, only three Cardinals even have three seasons in a row as the regular second baseman: Jose Oquendo (1989 to 1991), Fernando Vina (2000 to 2002), and Skip Schumaker (2009 to 2011).
If Kolten Wong plays through this new contract, Wong will have eight seasons under his belt as the Cardinals’ regular second baseman. That alone puts him into some rare air in St. Louis history.
Herr had seven seasons. Rogers Hornsby had seven seasons too. Red Schoendienst, who celebrated his 93rd birthday just over a month ago, had ten seasons as the team’s regular second baseman.
As far as I found in my research, the guy with the most is Julian Javier, who played for the Cardinals from 1960 to 1971. He was the team’s regular second baseman for 11 of those 12 seasons.
At the end of this contract, Wong will be 31 years old with plenty of baseball ahead of him, so the chance that he could go beyond the eight seasons is definitely real.
The contract represents a big commitment from the organization towards Wong, but there is still some question as to whether Wong will eventually blossom into the kind of player worth a long-term commitment. After all, the last player who earned a deal entering his final year of team controlled salary was Matt Carpenter. Carpenter, then 28, was coming off a season where he led baseball in runs, hits, and doubles and finished fourth in National League MVP voting.
Defenders of the deal, like myself, will undoubtedly point out Wong’s numbers. He was better overall in 2015 than he was in 2014. He also provided at least 2 WAR in each as well. With those kind of numbers, he is easily providing enough value on the field to be worth the money, even if he has already reached his ceiling.
But you can love the deal and still admit that Wong still has much to prove. Because he can show you the flashes of his immense talent and make a careless play. Often times in the same game.
Everyone talks about Wong’s 2015 season when suggesting that he still has a lot to prove.
In the first half of the season, Wong appeared to be on the verge of a breakout season. At the break he was hitting .280 with 9 home runs and had finished second in All Star balloting at second base. Many made the case that he’d been snubbed by not being selected as a reserve or placed in the final vote. I tend to agree with them.
The second half was a very different story for Wong. The breakout year ran off the tracks as he hit just .234 after the break. He failed to hit a home run over the final two months of the season. But for all of that, his second half wasn’t nearly as bad as the story gets told.
After the All Star Break through August 22nd, Kolten Wong played 33 consecutive games at second base for the Cardinals and hit .198. Why do I stop the sample on August 22nd? The Cardinals called up Greg Garcia on August 23rd and Wong finally got a day off. Actually, he got two off, and returned to the lineup on August 25th. He hit .287 the rest of the way.
The theory that his July and August struggles were due to fatigue and overuse have some support with the numbers, so that’s the theory that the Cardinals entered the offseason working with. Pete Kozma was the team’s primary backup in the middle infield for the team last year and with an already struggling offense, it made it difficult to bench a guy with Wong’s potential for the struggling Kozma.
That’s why the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko by trade with San Diego. The move should help keep Wong fresh at second base, boost the infield depth, and provide a right handed power bat for the bench. That’s a plus for the team on several fronts.
For 2016, Wong has said that he’d like an opportunity to bat leadoff, but he still has a long way to go until he is ready to take that role. Matt Carpenter has made it known that he intends to keep the job, so Wong will have to play well enough to wrestle it away. And to do that, he’ll have to take another step forward.
There is no doubt though, that if Wong could, that the team would be better for it.