As the St. Louis Cardinals are starting to pull together as a team and find their way in the National League pennant race, I can't help but notice that it doesn't seem there is a place for second baseman Kolten Wong to fit into the puzzle.
Wong is so talented that it hurts to see him continue to fail to produce results. He's got a lightning quick bat and legs to match. But he has a lackluster .254 career batting average and a pedestrian .322 career on-base percentage. Wong stole 15 bases in his first full year in the big leagues. But he dipped to 15 the second and hasn't been in double figures in swipes since. He has the most range and probably the best hands of the team's infielders. But he makes boneheaded plays, often messing up the easiest chances he gets while making much tougher plays seemingly only to keep hopes alive that he'll get things figured out alive.
The Cardinals, obviously, can't expect Greg Garcia to continue hitting like he has when he gets into games. But it is fairly obvious that Wong is either back in Manager Mike Matheny's doghouse — or else the skipper isn't convinced he's good enough to be a major league starter.
Is there room on a team that considers itself to be a contender to have a guy who just doesn't seem to be able to get over the hump? It doesn't seem like it when Wong, a guy who ought to be a leadoff hitter with his skill set, ranks eighth on the team in plate appearances. It seems like he's barely holding onto a role as a starter. But, actually, he'd probably be outside the starting eight if Jedd Gyorko wasn't on the disabled list.
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Someday soon Gyorko is going to be activated. Possibly even Monday. Does anyone think that he's going to take a back seat to Wong? I'm guessing that the starting lineup is either going to feature Gyorko at second base or that Matt Carpenter will slide over to the keystone position and Gyorko will go back to third. If that happens, what will Wong do? He can only really play one defensive position, despite the efforts last season to try to make him useful in the outfield. That doesn't make him much of a bench player, especially on a team that has a short supply of position players because it has eight relief pitchers on the roster.
I really hope St. Louis doesn't ship out Harrison Bader to make room for Gyorko. Bader hit a home run Sunday that was key in the Birds' four-game sweep of the Cincinnati Reds and then later made an excellent catch to put the game away. When he played Saturday, he was also a key contributor. Yairo Munoz was added to the MLB roster because, after an excellent spring, it was thought he could add some versatility. But he's hitting .111 since the games have started to count and has made some big defensive miscues. He might benefit from going to Class AAA Memphis to play every day, especially if he's moved around in a utility role.
But that's only a temporary solution. Unfortunately, it seems that Wong has become the new Colby Rasmus — a player the Cardinals are afraid to pull the plug on because, despite his track history of frustration, the front office fears will finally get his act together with a change of scenery, making the team's leadership look foolish. In the meantime, his trade value has done nothing but gone down, down, down.
I'd love to see Wong be the player we've seen in glimpses. A guy who can spray doubles all over the park, who has the speed to steal 30 bases and who ought to be able to steal a run a game from the opposing offense. But, this far into his career, I don't see that happening. It seems his biggest effect on the roster is as a distraction.