A few days ago Kolten Wong expressed interest in re-signing with the Cardinals and spending his entire career in St. Louis. The last guaranteed year of his current contract is this season, although he also has a $12.5 million team option for the 2021 season. He will be 29 years old this season, and unless an extension is negotiated, Wong would enter free agency at age 31. While the free agent market has become less friendly to 31 year olds in recent years, a new collective bargaining agreement will be negotiated after the 2021 season. This could effect Wong’s prospects if he were to test the free agent waters. However, it appears that he would like to remain a Cardinal after he current deal expires, so free agency is likely not a priority for the left-handed hitter. The question is, should a Wong extension be a priority for the Cardinals?
It is clear that the Cardinals like to conduct their business in the spring. In recent years, they have negotiated a number of extensions with players during Spring Training. This can be beneficial as it allows players to focus on baseball when the season begins, and it can allow the Cardinals to have assurance about the future, so they can better plan their next moves. However, it can also backfire. The extensions that were given to players such as Paul Goldschmidt, Yadier Molina, and Matt Carpenter do not appear to be wins for the front office in hindsight. Each of these extensions were made for specific reasons, but it is clear that the Cardinals like to retain their own players. If Wong were to get an extension, he could run the risk of falling into this group, as someone who is overpaid in his older years. A new contract would not begin until the 2021 season, but the Cardinals might like to negotiate the now, as the team has shown a willingness to engage in early negotiations. Additionally, Wong would surely like to begin negotiations now as he is coming off a career year in which he won a Gold Glove and tallied 3.7 WAR.
However, the Cardinals should wait until the all star break or the offseason if they want to extend Wong. Last season was the first since 2015 that Wong recorded more than 411 at bats in an MLB season. He has struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness at the plate at times during his career and it would be prudent to give Wong a little more time to prove that his 2019 season is repeatable. This could hurt the Cardinals if he increases his value, but it is better to be sure, and it seems like Wong is going to be very open to negotiations. The last thing the Cardinals need is to get locked into another multiyear contract with an ineffective or injured veteran. Wong is of particular concern due to his age Any contract extension would begin at his age 31 season. Players are usually not getting better at this point in their careers, thus the threat of decline would be present. This does not mean that an extension would be a bad idea though. If Wong can prove that his 2019 was no fluke then an extension of around three years could allow him to remain a key contributor to the Cardinals for a few more years at least.
Decline is usually somewhat gradual, so it seems reasonable to think that Wong would be at least able to play well in his age 31 and 32 seasons. He might show increased signs of age at 33, but he should still be able to perform at the level of a glove-first regular. Of course, this depends on Wong being able to maintain his 2019 level of production. However, this seems likely as he has posted a solid 6.5 WAR in the last two seasons. For Wong the major difference between 2018 (2.8 WAR) and 2019 (3.7 WAR) was his bat as his wRC+ rose from 99 to 108. If this is sustainable, it would give him a higher baseline from which to decline as he ages. Assuming that he remains a slightly above average hitter next season, he likely has at least three more seasons of above average offensive seasons left. Even when he falls below the 100 wRC+ threshold, his glove should remain valuable enough to make an extension a good choice. Wong has posted 33 DRS in the last two seasons combined and this gives him a very high floor. He is already among the best infield defenders in the MLB and this is not something that should be taken for granted. He has been a very productive second baseman in the last few seasons, and even with the possibility of regression factored in, a relatively short extension should allow the Cardinals to receive even more value without his contract being a long-term problem. Wong’s first extension proved to be a success, and his second extension should be one as well. However, anything more than three seasons is risky and could cause the Cardinals to experience some of the same financial issues that they are currently experiencing. If a contract of reasonable length is presented, then it would be a solid move by the Cardinals to lock up an above average hitter and one of the premier infield defenders in the MLB .