We are still pretty far away from meaningful games being played. It also appears we have passed the point of meaningful moves being made. So what is there to do? Read way too deeply into statements and rumors associated with the Cardinals. A few weeks ago, Alex Crisafulli wondered whether Kolten Wong knew his status with the team in light of trade rumors to the Angels, Royals, and then the mention of Brian Dozier of the Twins.
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.
Today, we’ll take a quick look at another situation relating to Wong, perhaps quite innocuous.
.@Cardinals' Mozeliak on Kolten Wong: “I do think this is a big year for him. …I hope he gets every opportunity to prove us right.” #MLBNow— MLB Network PR (@MLBNetworkPR) January 9, 2017
If Wong were to ask John Mozeliak about his status, he would no doubt get an extremely positive answer. Mozeliak was the one who gave Wong a contract extension, and it has been Mozeliak championing Wong as part of the Cardinals emphasis on defense heading into this season. Wong was handled strangely last season, Matheny admitted his role Grichuk’s stagnation, and mostly has been quoted before in an unusual manner that could be considered a jab at his manager.
From Mozeliak on 2016 #STLCards: I'm wondering if we created too much roster flexibility as opposed to stability.— Tim McKernan (@tmckernan) August 4, 2016
So what are we to make of this latest quote, that Mozeliak hopes “he gets every opportunity to prove us right.” There is of course a rather benign reading of the quote: Mozeliak is a big believer in Wong and he hopes that he has a a good season and deserves to get playing time and everything goes great. That’s a fair reading. There is of course another reading that could be targeted at Mike Matheny.
John Mozeliak watched as Kolten Wong struggled for two weeks, was benched and struggled with illness thereafter, but managed to hit close to an average rate before being benched enough that Mozeliak then had to send Wong down to the minors. Mozeliak then observed Wong come back and produce at an average rate (which is good for a second baseman) and be an above average fielder, and still Matheny buried Wong on the bench.
Then Mozeliak makes the too much depth quote and for the rest of the season, Wong gets limited playing time but puts up a 109 wRC+ which would in theory earn him playing time, but sees two comparable players get double the PA (Gyorko put up a slightly better 117 during that time while Peralta put up a 104).
Then Mozeliak goes out of his way to emphasize Kolten Wong as part of the future. When teams ask for Kolten Wong in trade, Mozeliak apparently makes the cost prohibitively high for other teams.
Teams looking for INF help are pursuing Cardinals 2B Kolten Wong, sources tell SBN. Rival exec with interest: "They want a lot for him."— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 6, 2016
We know Mozeliak believes in Wong. We know that Wong didn’t get every opportunity to prove himself last season and Mozeliak wondered if he created too much depth. This offseason, that statement has played out in the annual attempt to Matheny-proof a roster. Sometimes it’s too much depth. Sometimes it isn’t enough. It’s always, always, always the bullpen.
Matheny has always prioritized offense over defense so Mozeliak signs Dexter Fowler, a bench-proof player for center field and hopes to install Randal Grichuk in left field, but provides no bench alternatives in case Matheny wants to bury Grichuk again a couple times like last season. While several impact players went for cheap on the free agent market in Justin Turner and Edwin Encarnacion, Mozeliak has avoided those players to not create a greater logjam in the infield.
Mozeliak has remained steadfast in moving Matt Carpenter to first base to clear more room for Wong, not unlike his trade of David Freese several years ago. With Carpenter not an option at second or third base, that leaves Wong, Peralta, Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, and Greg Garcia for the remaining infield spots. We know Diaz is going to get his time at shortstop, and that Peralta will get his opportunities at third, but that should leave ample time for Wong at second base with Gyorko getting time at second, third, and shortstop.
That doesn’t mean there won’t be opportunities for Wong to take a back seat. If Gyorko gets “hot” and the trusted veteran Peralta starts playing every single day, Wong could again wonder about his role. Matheny has chosen Greg Garcia over Wong before and he could do it again.
So yesterday’s quote could be a harmless supportive statement regarding his belief in Kolten Wong’s ability. It could also be a plea that says, for the love of god, you buried Wong last year, you buried him in 2014, he actually plays well when you give him a chance, he’s young, he’s talented, he should be an important part of our team’s future, he improves our defense which is so badly needed after last year’s disaster in the field, please, please, please just play Kolten Wong, I don’t know how much more clear I could make this. Play. Kolten. Wong.
Your viewpoint on how to read the quote is probably dependent on your read of the situation coming into the matter. That the latter view is even a possibility says a lot about the state of Matheny’s managing heading into sixth season with the Cardinals.