If the St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman is out for the first round of the playoffs, someone is going to have to replace him. Who should it be?
The injury Kolten Wong has suffered is a definite problem for the St. Louis Cardinals. The injury still isn’t being discussed much but the hamstring issue is officially a grade 2 hamstring strain. Depending on who you listen to, that could mean 3-6 weeks out or more.
Looking at the calendar, that would mean the team’s “MVP” of 2019 would be out for at least the first round of the playoffs. Despite Wong saying that he feels fine and is progressing, he has yet to resume baseball activities now almost a week after the injury.
There really isn’t a rush, but with the Wild Card games starting early next week and the NLDS starting next Thursday, it is tough to imagine Wong making a comeback to action so quickly. The postseason roster is still up for debate but most of the position players have been decided.
With Wong out, the infield will have to be Tommy Edman at second base and Matt Carpenter at third. The bench with Wong out would likely start with Matt Wieters, Jose Martinez, Yairo Munoz, and Tyler O’Neill. Carpenter would regularly be on the bench should Wong play, but with Wong out, there is an open spot.
Who should it go to?
The face value answer would be an infielder who has versatility. With the versatile Edman and third baseman Carpenter in the starting lineups, Munoz would be the only player on the bench to be able to sub in at an infield position other than first base. Unfortunately, that would mean the only other infielder that is eligible for that role is Edmundo Sosa.
Nothing against Sosa, but his bat shouldn’t be on a postseason roster with more intriguing options available. The more intriguing options will definitely overload some positions but in the postseason, the need off the bench is for someone who can provide a big hit when needed. Jose Martinez and his .900+ career OPS pinch-hitting is a great example of the person you want in that role.
Assuming the Cardinals would not take the option to run with a four-man bench and nine relievers (counting Michael Wacha as a reliever, not a starter), the clear options past Sosa for Wong’s postseason spot are either Randy Arozarena or Rangel Ravelo.
The career minor leaguer Ravelo is a first baseman like Martinez but can’t be plugged in at other positions. He has popped two homers at the MLB this year and has a .707 OPS in very limited opportunities. Ravelo is a guy who can run into a ball every once in a while and has a .826 OPS pinch-hitting this year. Mainly though, Ravelo looks overmatched often and is ultimately a AAAA player.
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The more intriguing option is definitely Arozarena. The lack of playing time he has received while on the major league bench this year has frankly disrespectful to the 1.000+ OPS he put up the entire season at AAA as a 24-year-old. He has just a .722 OPS in 18 plate appearances this year but should’ve gotten way more chances in his time.
Arozarena can play any outfield position and while he clogs up the outfield replacement depth chart that already has O’Neill and Martinez, his ability to pinch-run, hit for power, hit for contact all should go into the decision of who should replace Wong.
Arozarena has gone 2-4 in pinch-hitting opportunities this year and while he doesn’t have the experience that Ravelo has in that regard, he is the easy choice for another bench threat to have in the playoffs.
Having Wong miss any postseason time will hurt, but replacing him with a potential powder keg like Arozarena will make Wong’s absence sting less. Ravelo isn’t a bad choice either, but his positional inflexibility could limit the Cardinals at some point. In any case, if the Cardinals were to make it to the NLCS, getting Wong back then would be huge.