Cardinals pitchers and catchers report day

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong fields a ground ball with instructor Jose Oquendo on report day for St. Louis Cardinals spring training on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, in Jupiter, Fla. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, Content Exchange

JUPITER, Fla. — The time Kolten Wong purchased by agreeing to a contract extension two years into his big-league career paid off for him and the Cardinals with a Gold Glove Award and career year offensively this past year.

Now he’s open to discussing sticking around even longer.

“Being with the Cardinals my whole career – I would love for it to end that way,” Wong said. “Or to extend my career longer with the Cardinals and see how far we can push it.”

Wong, 29, is entering the final guaranteed year of the five-year, $25.5-million extension he signed during spring training 2016. He became part of a tradition that stretches back more than a decade – of the Cardinals working on extensions for existing players during spring training. A year ago, the Cardinals committed nearly $250 million in extensions to Paul Goldschmidt, Miles Mikolas, and, in the opening hours of the regular season, Matt Carpenter. This spring, the Cardinals are likely to work out an extension of sort for catcher and unofficial captain Yadier Molina, and the club would love to have dialogue with starter Jack Flaherty.

The Cardinals have control of Wong’s rights for 2021 with a $12.5-million option. But it was at the same point in his contract a year ago that the Cardinals worked out a new contract with Carpenter. The third baseman pursued the contract for the opportunity to get closer to being a careerlong Cardinal.

The Cardinals folded his 2020 option into a two-year extension.

“I would definitely be interested in talking,” Wong said. “It’s always a matter of what the Cardinals think, and what we have coming up.”

Including the option, Wong's current contract takes him through his age 30 season and getting him to free agency at age 31 and just as a new Collective Bargaining Agreement would be starting. That would factor into the extension interest on both sides.

Wong established himself as an elite defensive second baseman in 2018, and he won his first career Gold Glove this past fall. He coupled that award with a .285/.361/.423 batting line that eventually moved him toward the top of the lineup. He has a chance this spring to make a case to bat leadoff or No. 2 for the Cardinals as they look for ways to ignite the offense. As they ready switch-hitter Tommy Edman for a utility role this season, he also represents the alternative at second base in the coming years should Wong move on. Edman would be arbitration eligible the same year Wong’s current contract expires.

In March 2016, Wong had just come off a .707-OPS season that was his first more than 600 plate appearances as an everyday starter in the majors. He explained this week that the appeal of signing an extension so early in his career was to give him the security of knowing he’d get to grow as a player – on the job. The contract gave him a buoy to cling to in the turbulence of trying to remain a starter in the majors.

“Honestly, back then when I made a decisions I knew I need to kind of – well, not buy time but get some kind of security under my belt where I could figure out my game at this level,” Wong said. “Once you get to the big leagues you really have to invent yourself – who you are – and figure out what is going to make you consistent every single day. When I first got here I had no idea how to do that. I didn’t know how to get ready for games, to get ready for the everyday grind of a big-league season. It has definitely been huge for me to buy into finding that out.

“It wasn’t just about the money – it was about getting that time to be in the big leagues and worry about being set down,” Wong added. “I was able to learn.”

In the midst of the extension, Wong was options to the minors because the Cardinals were groping for added offense and he needed time to reboot his swing with the help of then-Class AAA hitting coach Mark Budaska.

Wong returned – as a regular ever since.

Extension season usually includes players entering the final year of their contract or players the Cardinals are looking to secure through their years of arbitration – and beyond. Molina is coming to the end of a three-year, $60-million extension that was finalized at the end of 2017 spring training. His agent met with the Cardinals in person in November to express Molina’s wishes to play beyond this season, and Molina said this past month that he intends to play another year or two, but only if he has that opportunity with the Cardinals.

The Cardinals have also used spring to negotiate an extension for Paul DeJong just as he was on the cusp of becoming the team’s everyday shortstop.

Bill DeWitt Jr., the team’s chairman, has long said the business model for the baseball operations group is to develop players and keep them. He has described how important it has been to assure players like Molina and Adam Wainwright complete their careers with the Cardinals as part of what he called “a legacy.” That factored into the discussions last year with Matt Carpenter, who was coming off a top-10 finish in the MVP voting. The Cardinals have been far more aggressive and eager to spend when it comes to maintaining players than when they’re forced to shop for additions in the open market.

“I’m willing and ready to talk,” Wong said, “but honestly it’s in their hands.”


Derrick Goold

@dgoold on Twitter

This article originally ran on Content Exchange