The St. Louis Cardinals' demotion of Kolten Wong makes little sense

Dilip Vishwanat

A few days later, St. Louis Cardinals management's stated rationale for demoting Kolten Wong still doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense.

After thinking over the St. Louis Cardinals’ demotion of Kolten Wong on Sunday after a mere 76 plate appearances this season, the move makes even less sense. This even after the St. Louis general and field manager have attempted to explain the club’s decision. Here we are, standing at the corner of Mospeak Lane and Mathenaging Avenue, completely lost.

John Mozeliak and Mike Matheny apparently met on Sunday morning and made the decision to demote Wong. This after Matheny started veteran Mark Ellis against the Pirates at the keystone on Saturday and futility infielder Daniel Descalso there on Sunday. When the field and general manager reached their joint decision to send Wong down to Triple-A, the Rainbow Warrior was batting .225/.275/.268. That’s bad. But Ellis (.100/.240/.100) and Descalso (.115/.179/.192) were batting even worse.

Making the move even more curious was Matheny’s initial explanation of it. So shaped like a pretzel was Matheny’s stated rationale that it either revealed a man incapable of reasoning in a way that results in a good decision (which, given his in-game and lineup choices, may very well be the case) or was nothing more than bullshit spouted with the intention of creating a veil to shield his and Mozeliak’s true motivation for sending Wong to Triple-A (whatever that may be).

Matheny returned to the bizarre critique of Wong that he first spewed in spring training, that somehow Wong was mentally ill-equipped to handle adversity—in part because he has experienced nothing but success while climbing the organizational ladder—and that he must learn how to do so in order to be successful. Then, out of the other side of his mouth, Matheny conceded that Wong was improving with his mental approach, or was at least getting better at faking an improved mindset, which was framed as a positive. Matheny also circled back to another recent critique—that Wong had a "drift" in his swing he needed to work out.

Matheny’s assertions stood in contrast to Wong’s. The would-be Cardinals second baseman stated that he had been working on his swing and that he felt he had ironed out the kinks. Wong also said that he had found mental peace, was set to go out and have fun playing ball, and would let the chips fall where they may. It was an exercise in Crash Davis interviewing, the type of platitudes that have by and large come to dominate player comments to media types, but Wong’s quotes stood in stark contrast to those of his manager.

Parsing the general manager’s Mospeak, it seems that the demotion was made in response to the field manager’s intentions. Wong was off to a slow start, Matheny was not going to play him every day (or perhaps even most days), and a trip to Memphis where the organization could guarantee him daily action was the best course to take in order to allow him to work things out in a more low-pressure environment. Mozeliak specifically mentioned Wong needing to work on his plate approach, noting that Wong hit four grounders on six pitches in his last start (while ignoring that he notched two hits in his penultimate St. Louis start). Breaking out of a slow start or slump often happens in fits and starts, and the Cardinals management duo apparently didn’t much care to give Wong the opportunity work his way out of his April struggles.

The absurdity of management’s decision is made clear if we ask ourselves one question: What does Wong have left to prove at Triple-A?

Last season, the second baseman played 107 games for Triple-A Memphis. He notched 463 plate appearances. Wong posted a batting line of .303/.369/.466 for the Redbirds. To answer the question posed above, Wong has absolutely nothing left to prove in Triple-A. No player-development reason comes to mind for sending him back to play at a level at which he’s already enjoyed success.

The nonsensical nature of Wong’s demotion is also laid bare by Matheny’s claims about Wong enjoying success throughout his career and needing to learn to overcome adversity as well as work out a kink in his swing. Let’s accept as true Matheny’s assertion that Wong has not experienced difficulty in the minors (however absurd it is to claim that Wong was never before mired in a slump during his pro career). If Wong is never given the chance to overcome Major League adversity or correct a mechanical problem in his swing at the big-league level, how will he ever do so and establish himself as ready to compete in The Show?

The bizarre reasoning of Cardinals management doesn’t stop there, though.

Mozeliak also noted that the Cards everyday lineup as a whole was not producing. Three or four million-dollar-plus veterans aren’t producing, he seemed to insinuate, so we’re going to send the rookie second baseman—who was also not hitting—down to the minors. As I understand Mozeliak’s explanation, the Cardinals wanted to make some roster moves in an attempt to jumpstart the offense and Wong was the corresponding move of least resistance. To be demoted in part for the batting shortcomings of his more-experienced teammates is not at all fair to Wong.

Now the questioning shifts:

  • What must Wong must do in Memphis to justify his recall to St. Louis? Does he have to hit .300 or higher for two weeks? Four?
  • Does success in a small and consequently meaningless Triple-A sample of plate appearances overcome his struggles in a small and consequently meaningless number of plate appearances in the majors?
  • If Wong does succeed in Memphis and receive a recall, will Matheny be open to playing him in St. Louis upon his recall even if he struggles again? Or will Cardinals management once again demote him and deprive him of the opportunity to overcome adversity at the MLB level (something that every big-leaguer must learn to do)?

Based on the merit of his overall performance as a professional ballplayer, Wong has earned the opportunity to overcome adversity at the major-league level. Standing at the intersection of Mathenaging and Mospeak, it’s puzzling that the general and field manager seemingly don’t feel that he has.

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