Many fans were surprised when the St. Louis Cardinals didn’t pick up Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million team option earlier this month and some pointed to it as a sure sign that MLB teams were going to be stingy this winter. But should the Mariners take advantage of this opportunity?
Now make no mistake, Wong is a nice player and one of the best defensive second basemen in all of baseball. Wong has some skills at the plate including an ability to put the bat on the ball as evidenced by his 14.4% K rate in 2020 which ranked in the 90th percentile. Wong has always been good at avoiding strikeouts, never posting a K% of higher than 15.5 percent. Wong also walks at a reasonable clip, posting a 9.6 BB%, a significant increase over his career 8.3% rate which is still solid.
Wong has used his advanced contact skills and fair strike zone recognition to post a .350 or better OBP in 3 of his past 4 seasons, including a career-high mark of .376 in 2017. But what Wong doesn’t do is hit the ball hard, at least not very often. In 2020, Wong posted a 0.6% barrel rate, the worst in the league. And while 2020 will always have the small sample size caveat attached to it, his 2019 mark of 2.2% wasn’t much better, ranking in the 6th percentile. Wong doesn’t hit for much power either, only reaching double-digit home run marks in 3 of his seven seasons and never postin a slugging percentage better than.423.
Wong is a good base-runner but he’s not a burner, so his value is mostly tied to his elite second base defense. He is a great defender at second, but the Seattle Mariners appear set to give 2020 breakout player Dylan Moore full-time reps at second to start 2021. Moore has earned that time and provides significantly more offensive upside than Wong. Moore is actually younger and cheaper as well, making him the better option. Wong has dabbled in the outfield, collecting just over 100 innings in the big leagues, but has never played another infield spot.
This lack of versatility makes him a poor choice for the full-time utility spot, unless the Mariners choose to keep Moore in that role. At the end of the day, Wong is a good player who should find a starting job somewhere, but in order for the Mariners to be a fit, they’d need to relegate Moore to the utility spot and be willing to give Wong $3-$6 million for their troubles.
Giving Wong $12 million when you can simply pay Dylan Moore $650,000 doesn’t make much sense, at least in 2021. While the Mariners are going to be competiting for a playoff spot, it isn’t a “go for it” year in a traditional sense. The expanded playoffs allow the team a shot they wouldn’t get under the old format. Wong could make more sense next winter when the team has more information on Moore and Shed Long, but the timing doesn’t work to give Wong anything close to the $12 million option the Cardinals turned down.