There’s not a lot going on right now as is typical when the Hot Stove mostly cools for the holidays, but something caught my eye over the break and I think it’s worth exploring. The day after Christmas (Boxing Day in some parts of the world but otherwise known as Ozzie Smith’s birthday around here) Derrick Goold authored a nice column about Kolten Wong committing to living in St. Louis year-round to reciprocate the five-year commitment the club made to him last offseason and the hopeful playing time he’ll see in 2017.
Committing to St. Louis means committing to winter as well. Take this paragraph, for instance:
A native of Hawaii, Wong heard it would be a chilly winter in St. Louis, and seeing as he had less experience in the snow than he has in center field, he wanted to be prepared. He raided a local store for four winter coats, two pairs of snow pants, two pairs of boots, cold-weather training gear and several beanies. Anything. Everything. For warmth. He and his wife, a University of Hawaii alum, had made their decision during a warmer season: This year would be the year that they would leave the beach behind and call St. Louis home.
As a whole it’s a bit more substantive than that paragraph reflects and I enjoyed the piece because I’m probably higher on Wong than most. And with the organization’s stated goal to improve the defense this offseason I’m conditioned to Wong being the Cardinals’ everyday second baseman in 2017. Sounds like John Mozeliak feels the same way:
I don’t make lineups but you have to have the understanding of patience. [Wong’s] such a talented defender and when your team is built around groundball pitching it’s nice to have that behind you.
And Mike Matheny:
I see exciting things ahead for him.
Those quotes might be vague, but it still came as a surprise later that same evening when just before I turned off my phone for the four-hour flight home after Christmas, I scrolled through Twitter and saw what everyone else saw – that the Cardinals were to some degree interested in Twins second baseman Brian Dozier. In my head Wong saw it too and then lit his newly-purchased snow pants on fire, or at least sent HR the receipts. (Although, come to think of it, they’d be even more practical in Minneapolis.)
Before I go further, let me be clear that I’m projecting a lot here. I have zero insight into the level of interest the Cardinals actually have in Dozier. It very well might be nothing. I don’t know if acquiring Dozier would absolutely displace Wong although it’s hard to argue otherwise. And if the Cardinals are indeed interested in Dozier, as far as I know there’s been 100% transparency between the front office and Wong, and the timing of Goold’s article coupled with the Dozier rumors are no reason to assume otherwise.
Now with that disclaimer out there, let’s assume away. As an outsider looking in, it sure doesn’t feel like the Cardinals are 100% committed to Wong, or at least aren’t communicating very well with him.
That’s not inherently wrong. Wong isn’t prime Albert Pujols – the only recent “untouchable” Cardinal that I can think of – and I’m sure he even knows that. If the team can be improved at that position, then the organization is obligated to explore those options. And as John noted last night, right now Dozier is the better player of the two. Jedd Gyorko could even be a better option.
I wonder about the communication aspect though. Barry Svrluga’s wonderful book The Grind is an enlightening read not for the stories on the field but rather those off of it. The fringe-level prospect who never knows if he’s going to get called up from AAA. The players like Wong who are dangled around in the offseason or near the trade deadline, and who might have to pack their bags on a moment’s notice. Keeping a player in purgatory over the course of a long season in which so much depends on routine and structure can have negative effects.
It’s possible this doesn’t matter to Wong. Goold’s article made it a point to mention that he ignored the trade talks involving him earlier in the month with Kansas City and Anaheim. But last year as he rotated from second base, to Memphis, and the bench, his stats regressed. There’s a chicken and egg thing going on here so who knows if the instability was a big factor. Still, there was that (possibly innocuous) chatter from a few weeks ago that Randal Grichuk hadn’t been personally informed by the club that he wouldn’t playing center field in 2017. And then you have Matt Holliday having to seek out the front office in the closing weeks of the 2016 season to find out if he’d be back. In light of that I think it’s fair to wonder if Mozeliak’s impressive tight-lipped demeanor sometimes comes at the expense of the players.
Hyman Roth would say this is the business they’ve chosen. There are plenty of stories like Wong’s playing out in various MLB clubhouses this month. His story is not that unique. Fair. Personally, though, I’d feel better if Wong bought those snow pants knowing full well his status with the team.