Reports that the St. Louis Cardinals have signed second baseman Kolten Wong to a five-year contract extension are either really good news -- or really bad news.
Wong, 25, is undoubtedly an extremely talented, young player. So it’s good that the Redbirds know he’s going to be someone they can count on to be around for the long-term future. He can be a real building block.
Unless... he fails to mature from the player he is CAPABLE of being into a player who makes the most of those skills.
Wong’s physical skills aren’t in question here. His attributes that leave some people scratching their heads is his hard-headedness, his tendency to get down on himself for long periods of time and his occasional lack of focus.
I really believe if he’d combine a little more thinking with his tremendous bat speed that Wong could become the best leadoff man in baseball with a batting average in the .315-.320 range and an on-base percentage pushing .400.
Instead, he gets suckered by too many pitchers who realize he’s trying to pull every pitch he sees and hits a pedestrian .262 in 2015.
So does it help a young player to suddenly have all the pressure of trying to earn a huge payday away by handing him a giant, guaranteed pile of cash as a present?
I don’t know the terms of the deal yet -- other than that it’s a five-year contract with an option for a sixth year. Maybe it was such a sweet deal for the Cardinals in terms of dollars and cents that they just couldn’t pass it up.
But there weren’t too many people who complained a few years ago when the Redbirds handed Allen Craig a guaranteed, multi-year contract. I’m not suggesting in any way that Craig got lazy because of it. But he certainly started to slide downhill almost immediately after signing that deal. Maybe it was the pressure to live up to it. The point is, you never know what you’re going to get from a young player over the long haul. So it’s a gamble to tie yourself to them for two or three years beyond what you’d otherwise have to.
The downside is that Wong wasn’t even eligible for arbitration until next year and couldn’t become a free agent until 2020. So the team only gets one additional year of his services if Wong pans out. But they made him harder to trade and put themselves in a position where they’re committed to pay him increasing salaries regardless of if his contribution on the field increase.
Hopefully Wong will take a big step forward this year and we won’t have to worry about whether the contract stunted his growth as a player.
While I question the timing a little bit, the part that I definitely like about this contract is the Cardinals front office’s efforts to go the next step from drafting well to keeping those young players happy and in the fold.
It’s a stark contrast from the Chicago Cubs sticking it to their top prospect last spring to rob him of enough service time to prevent him from becoming a free agent for an additional year.
Do the Cubs not think Kris Bryant will remember that as he gains financial leverage later in his career?