Kolten Wong finally seemed like the player the St. Louis Cardinals hoped he could be in 2020. So maybe that means it’s time for the team to get rid of him while his value is at its highest.
It’s difficult to imagine letting go of the speedy second baseman when he’s coming off his best all-around season. Wong had his best season at the plate while putting together a strong bid for his first Gold Glove Award. He seems like he might finally be ready to make the leap from being a complementary player to taking a place as a key cog for the Cardinals, specifically as the team’s desperately needed new lead off hitter.
But, while Wong has been something of a bargain the past several years, his salary is starting to go up dramatically and the Cardinals will likely have to move some more expensive pieces if they plan to spend money this winter to address roster holes. In 2019, Wong made $6.5 million and he’s set to go up to $10.25 million in 2020. The Cardinals have an option on the left-handed hitter in 2021 for $12.5 million. Meanwhile, St. Louis has a capable infielder in Tommy Edman on the roster. While Wong has a lot of value, Edman could play second base for a little more than one-twentieth of the cost of Wong, allowing the Cardinals to free up cash to sign a starting pitcher or a middle of the order bat if the team decides to let left fielder Marcell Ozuna leave as a free agent. For that matter, St. Louis might have to free up cash if it plans to sign Ozuna who could require $8-10 million a season more than last season if he were to stick around.
The Cardinals need to look into their crystal ball and decide if Wong has finally arrived as a major league player, shaking off the problems he’s had in the past in sticking as a starter and in finding his way out of the bottom of the batting order. If not, this is the time to sell while the player’s value is at an all-time high.
Kolten Wong for Francisco Lindor?
During the past few days, an interesting rumor surfaced that the Cardinals might be a nice landing spot for Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor. While the deal proposed called for about half of the St. Louis roster in exchange for the slugging middle infielder, Wong could be an important piece of a more realistic deal. Mark Saxon of the Athletic thinks a Lindor deal would require top St. Louis position player prospect Nolan Gorman, incumbent shortstop Paul DeJong and either Wong or Edman. I would be shocked if the Cardinals would give away Gorman. But I could see the team be willing to trade DeJong and Wong — plus maybe a pitching or outfield prospect — for Lindor with the idea that Edman would slide into the lineup at second base.
DeJong would give Cleveland cost certainty at second base with a contract that pays him $1.5 million in 2020 and $4 million in 2021 before it starts to climb to $6 million in 2022 and $9 million in 2023. Meanwhile, the Cardinals would add a dynamic bat in Lindor, who was moving into his second year of arbitration after making $10.5 million last season. With the Tribe attempting to control costs, the team could fill shortstop and second base for less than the cost of Lindor the next two years.
Why would the Cardinals want Lindor over the new and improved Wong? Well, they hit for about the same batting average. And both have good speed, making them capable of stealing more than 20 bases in a season. But that’s where the similarities end. Lindor is a 30 plus homers a year slugger who seems ideal for the second or third spot int he batting order. Of course, if he’s installed there in St. Louis, the Cardinals would have to resume their search for a lead-off man since the fading Matt Carpenter has been pried from the role and Dexter Fowler no longer seems ideally suited for the top of the batting order — or possibly as a starting outfielder.
Cleveland has had something of a revolving door at second base in recent years with 32-year-old infielder Jason Kipnis spending the bulk of the time there last season. He hit only .245 with a .304 on-base percentage in 2019, so there is definitely room for improvement.
If St. Louis trade for Lindor, they must extend him
I love the look of an infielder made up of Paul Goldschmidt, Tommy Edman, Lindor and Gorman for the next five to seven years. But if the Cardinals were going to make such a move, it’s important that they try to extend Lindor as soon as possible. Because he is going to be a major target for baseball’s big spenders if he is allowed to hit the free agent market in a couple of years. Sadly, getting just two years out of a player who requires a big sacrifice of talent to land isn’t often work it. It seems like Ozuna just got here and he’s already got one foot out the door as he’s reached free agency.
It would be much easier to add a player or two through free agency without disrupting the core of this Cardinals team which has taken a long time to assemble. But, with a St. Louis payroll near its maximum, it might be more cost effective to try to go the trade route.
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Scott Wuerz is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. The Cheap Seats blog is written from his perspective as a fan and is designed to spark discussion among fans of the Cardinals and other MLB teams. Sources supporting his views and opinions are linked. If you’re looking for Cardinals news and features, check out the BND’s Cardinals section.