The Cardinals made what was an unpopular decision among many fans last week, buying out Kolten Wong’s $12.5MM club option for the 2021 season and making the now-two-time Gold Glove second baseman a free agent for the first time in his career. Wong spoke to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the team’s decision in a must-read interview for Cards fans, calling it a “punch to the gut” after he’d given his “heart and soul to the organization.”
Goold reports that Wong has heard from “at least” six other clubs since free agency began — the Angels among them. It stands to reason that others will filter in as teams get a greater sense of their 2021 budgets and/or make other transactions that could create a stronger fit for Wong within their organizations. That said, Wong made clear that he’s “absolutely” open to a reunion with the Cards, even if he sounded somewhat disappointed that the team didn’t make an effort to work out a more creative alternative. Wong plainly stated that he’d have been open to restructuring his contract or backloading a deal to help offset the 2020 revenue losses.
Whether a return to the Cardinals is plausible remains unclear, however, given the apparent financial constraints that ownership is placing on the front office. President of baseball ops John Mozeliak must also determine how to proceed with franchise icons Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright — both free agents themselves. Goold writes that the Cardinals have yet to initiate negotiations to re-sign Wong but hope to be in touch with him as his market develops.
Wong now joins a free-agent class of second basemen headlined by DJ LeMahieu and also featuring Jonathan Schoop, Cesar Hernandez and Tommy La Stella, among others. While LeMahieu obviously carries the most earning power of the bunch, Wong is arguably the second-best option on the market thanks to his blend of elite glovework, strong contact skills and perennially high on-base percentages.
The 2020 season was a down year in terms of power for Wong, who hit just one home run in 208 plate appearances, but he won his second Gold Glove and posted a strong .350 on-base percentage. Over the past four seasons, Wong has posted a combined .273/.356/.398 batting line with 25 home runs, 74 doubles, 11 triples and 43 stolen bases. In that span, Wong ranks 14th among all Major Leaguers, regardless of position, with 37 Defensive Runs Saved. He’s 16th in composite Ultimate Zone Rating in that same span.