If what ESPN sportswriter and broadcaster Bernie Miklasz tweeted today is true, it appears the St. Louis Cardinals have a big problem on their hands.
According to the veteran sports reporter, St. Louis skipper Mike Matheny has determined that injured infielder Jhonny Peralta will move from shortstop to third base when he comes off the disabled list early next week. He went on to say that Aledmys Diaz, who filled in admirably (at least at the plate) for Peralta will remain at short and Matt Carpenter will shift to second base for the bulk of his playing time.
The last bit is where the problem comes in to play.
Second base is the only position that young Cardinals infielder Kolten Wong plays. And, since he and Carpenter are both lefties, it doesn’t seem like there is a workable possibility for a platoon. So we have a pricy young prospect in the river city who has absolutely no place to play. How long can Matheny let him collect dust on the bench?
Carpenter could also play some first base, a spot that’s been a problem in the St. Louis lineup for the last season and a half. But the fact that Matheny said Carpenter is going to spend most of his time at second seems to indicate that the Redbirds have lost faith in a player to which they recently handed a $25 million contract.
It’s not as if Wong doesn’t merit the criticism. He’s got a lousy .225 batting average with more than twice as many strikeouts as walks and only five RBIs. Some folks believe RBIs are a misleading stat. But when you bat down in the order for a team that has scored the most runs in baseball, one would think his lack of production isn’t because of a lack of opportunities.
Wong hasn’t been getting better lately. Over the last month he’s played in only 20 games and started only 16 of them, displaying the team’s dwindling faith in him. But it’s a huge step away from where Wong currently stands to reveal he isn’t in the immediate future plans much at all.
So is Wong trade bait now?
He’s one of those guys that difficult to get rid of because he’s got so much raw talent. It’s the sort of move general managers fear they’ll forever regret. Still, the Cardinals have a history of holding onto diminishing prospects for too long.
The team held on to top pitching prospect Anthony Reyes, spurning trade offers, until they virtually had to give him away. The team maintained that it wouldn’t trade Colby Rasmus before dealing him for a bunch of players at the end of their contracts. It worked out well in the short term because those players ended up helping the Birds to a World Series title in 2011. But they weren’t the sort of return one would expect for a lefty power hitter who can play centerfield.
The Cardinals certainly aren’t a team without needs. And Wong ought to carry quite a bit of value on the trade market because he’s only 25 and he’s shown flashes of his capabilities at the major league level.
Could the Birds deal Wong for a power hitter to anchor the middle of their lineup? For a power pitcher who could shore up the middle innings from the bullpen? A prospect who more closely fits the team’s needs?
Or is this all a last-ditch effort to straighten out Wong with some tough love?
Will the team send him down to Class AAA Memphis where they’ll try to teach him that, five year contract or not, he’ll have to keep pushing every day to keep his starting MLB job?
That’s a risky proposition because if he goes to Memphis and mopes, he could completely destroy what remains of his trade value. Then he’d be less of a prospect and more widely perceived as damaged goods.
No matter what happens, it’s a real shame that Wong has fallen so far from the expectations that were set for him at the beginning of the season.
Wong is a guy who, if he used his head a little bit more, could hit 40 doubles and 15 homers a year while batting over .300.
But he outsmarts himself by trying to be a pint-sized power hitter. Trying to get one over on pitchers, he’s turned himself into a one-dimensional player. He needs to turn things around soon or he’s going to waste his tremendous talent.
I’m not sure which way this is going to go. But it’s pretty clear that the Cardinals are at a crossroads with a player they expected to be a building block of their future.