As the St. Louis Cardinals will soon begin building their roster for the 2021 season, there will need to be some tough decisions made. Could the team let Kolten Wong test free agency?
Kolten Wong has been the St. Louis Cardinals second baseman since 2014. In that time span, he has proven himself to be an elite defender who has shown his offensive potential in flashes. Now 30 years of age, Wong has a club option for the 2021 season. The Cardinals will be facing some hard decisions this offseason and Wong will be on that list.
Wong’s club option is for $12.5 million, which would be a pretty easy decision under other circumstances. However, due to the lost revenue that teams are facing after having no fans in 2020 because of COVID-19, the Cardinals might decide that price is too much for a defensive-oriented middle infielder.
The Cardinals have an in-house replacement in Tommy Edman and potentially another in Max Schrock. They could turn to either for essentially the league minimum and save themselves around $11.5 million after buying Wong’s option year out for $1 million.
The Cardinals could put that money towards looking for a bat in free agency, or maybe a mid-tier starting pitcher. Wong is a valuable asset and someone the Cardinals would almost surely like to have back in 2021. But after yet another season of offensive struggles as a team, they could look to make some unpopular moves. Letting Wong leave as a free agent would be surprising and would begin to represent a turning point for the St. Louis Cardinals roster.
The hypothetical tradeoff from Wong to Edman would certainly be a step back on defense. No question about that. From an offensive perspective, it would be a pretty even transition. Both players had an identical OPS+ of 87 this season, and similar batting averages as well. Edman seems to offer a bit more in the power department, as well, with five home runs in 204 at-bats. That compared to Wong’s one regular-season homer in 181 at-bats.
I bring up the home runs totals because the Cardinals are a team that lacks power and the capacity to score a lot of runs. They were 28th in runs this season in MLB. The offense has to do better.
Could turning second base over to Edman at a savings of roughly $11 million be a good decision? The Cardinals could put that money into improving another area of the offense. To me, it makes a lot of sense.
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Kolten Wong has been a great player and is a highlight reel at second base. He’s an important part of the Cardinals roster and someone that has a good chance to be back in the fold for 2021. But with the potential payroll constraints entering the 2021 season along with the Cardinals glaring need for offense, the team will need to look hard at all options. Letting Wong test free agency and ending his tenure with the birds on the bat is one (realistic) possibility.