I’ve heard a lot of whiney professional athletes spout off over the years about how they feel mistreated, despite their seven-figure salaries and the luxury of calling what most of us do purely for fun their “job.”
But St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong takes the cake.
The enigmatic second sacker blew his stack over the weekend when asked what he thought about manager Mike Matheny’s comment that Wong might find himself in a platoon situation as the skipper tries to make room for utility player Jedd Gyorko’s bat in the lineup.
To put it bluntly, Wong isn’t in a position to argue with the manager. He hasn’t done anything on the field to make a convincing case that the bench isn’t where he belongs.
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The Cardinals have tried to hand him the starting job at second base four years in a row. If things had gone anything close to expectations, Wong would be entrenched not only in the field – but also at the top of the St. Louis batting order. Unfortunately, his inability to perform -- coupled with his prolific ability to mope, has caused a player once thought of as one of the most promising prospects in Redbirds history to find his backside glued to the bench.
Wong was replaced by Gyorko last year when he disappeared at the plate, hitting .240 with 19 extra base hits all year. The speedy runner managed to swipe only seven bases. When Gyorko took his usual position, Matheny tried to deploy Wong in the outfield where he was terrible with the glove and didn’t improve at bat. So, Wong cooled his heels for the bulk of the rest of the season and came to spring training with a promise of having the starting job at second handed back to him.
As of the weekend, Wong fumbled away that opportunity with a .170 batting average, a .250 on-base percentage and a pile of strikeouts. Central to Wong’s gripe was the idea that he hasn’t had a fair chance to seize the position (AKA, the Peter Bourjos defense) but he’s third among the Cardinals in spring training at-bats with 47. The only two players he trails are outfielders, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty.
Matt Adams came to spring training knowing that the Cardinals tried to trade him over the off-season without success and that they promised his only defensive position to another starter, Matt Carpenter. Did he pout? Did he complain to the press? No. Adams worked his butt off all winter to get in the best shape of his career. Yeah, every player comes to camp to declare he’s in the best shape of his life. But with Adams, who shed at least 30 pounds, the change was obvious. Adams got off to a TERRIBLE start in Grapefruit League play and half of St. Louis fandom was ready to kick dirt on him. But he kept working and turning things around, putting together a .282 spring with four homers. Oh, and he worked hard on the back fields to develop a second position in attempt to earn more playing time. Now he’s added the ability to play the outfield corners to his resume.
I’m not sure where Adams fits on a Cardinals roster with another left-handed hitting first baseman standing in his way. But his attitude is a much better fit than Wong’s is right now.
The Redbirds are in a jam because they gave Wong a $25.5-million, five-year contract in hopes of relieving some of the pressure he puts on himself to his own detriment. So, the odds that the team would be able to trade him to accommodate his wish to go to a different team that would give him a fifth chance to start at second base are slim. So, he better get his act together, because if he can’t hear the footsteps of other players coming to take his job yet, he will soon.
Prospect Paul DeJong, who can play anywhere on the infield, put on a good show this spring and is rapidly climbing through the minor leagues. Wilfredo Tovar wowed with the glove and showed some potential with his bat this spring. Breyvic Valera hit .304 before being sent back to the minor league camp. Eliezer Alvarez is a 22-year-old second base prospect in the system and shortstop Edmundo Sosa could factor into the second base picture as the 21-year-old climbs through the system.
Wong can’t whine that he’s still growing into a major league job anymore when he’s about to be passed up by a freight train of middle infield talent.
The saying goes that it’s time to put up or shut up. I wish Wong the best. I want to see him become an All-Star for the Cardinals. But, in his case, it’s well past time to put up AND shut up.