There was a lot of news out of St. Louis on Thursday. At the beginning of the day, it was announced that catcher, and NL MVP candidate, Yadier Molina was returning from the 15-day DL and would start in that afternoon’s game against the Pirates. He was joined by reserve outfielder Shane Robinson, who was also returning from the DL. By mid-afternoon, the Cardinals finished another extra-inning thriller with Pittsburgh, winning 6-5 in 12 innings and taking 2 of 3 in the series to pull within 2 games of first place.
The day ended with further news: The Cards decided to call-up one of their top prospects, second baseman Kolten Wong. Wong, 22, was drafted 22nd overall in the 2011 draft by the Cardinals. To make room for Wong, the Cardinals optioned outfielder Adron Chambers back to Memphis. Chambers had been called up a few days ago but was expendable when Robinson returned from the DL.
Wong has been productive with the bat at all three levels of the minors he’s played at since being drafted. This year, in Triple-A Memphis, he is hitting .303/.369/.466 with 10 HRs and 20 SBs in 107 games. He has also been solid, if a bit unspectacular, with the glove at second. However, going back to college, he has pretty much exclusively been a second baseman. In the pros, he hasn’t logged an inning at any other position.
While Wong has always been deemed as the future second baseman for St. Louis since he was drafted, the Cards currently have an All-Star manning the position in Matt Carpenter. However, this is the first year he’s really been a second baseman in the pros. During his minor-league career, he was exclusively a third baseman. Last year, when he spent his first full year in the bigs, he bounced between third, first and the outfield. Carpenter currently leads the NL in runs scored and doubles.
It’s hard to say what the Cards are really expecting from Wong this year. Perhaps they just want to use him to spell Carpenter and third baseman David Freese down the stretch, as well as provide another decent bat off the bench. His bat is major-league ready, and they can use a little more pop at the plate right now. Considering that Carpenter, Daniel Descalso and Allen Craig are all comfortable playing multiple positions, they can deal with Wong’s inflexibility right now.
However, the real question, considering Carpenter’s breakthrough season, is what do they do about next year? As stated before, Wong is the second baseman of the future, and it appears that they are ready to see what he can do. If you ask me, I’d say that St. Louis is going to have to make a decision between Carpenter and Freese, and which one is going to be moved elsewhere in the offseason. And from this vantage point, it is looking like Freese is going to be the one waving goodbye.
While Freese will forever live in Cardinal lore for his 2011 postseason exploits, including two of the greatest at-bats in World Series history, he has only been OK as a major-leaguer. He has had a penchant for getting hurt, having had lengthy stays on the DL in 2010 and 2011, as well as missing a number of games these past two seasons. As a hitter, he’s been decent, but maybe not even above-average. His career splits are .289/.359/.431.
Last year, it looked like he was finally developing a power bat, as he hit 20 HRs. However, this year, he’s only hit 6 homers in 100 games. He’s also hitting .268/.348/.383 for the season. In addition, Freese is already 30, despite making his major-league debut in 2009, and is already in his arbitration years. In comparison, Carpenter is 27 and won’t be arbitration-eligible until 2015. This means the Cards can go younger and cheaper, and probably get the same or better production at third and second, if they drop Freese and go with Carpenter at 3rd and Wong at 2nd starting in 2014.
Is it sacrilege to talk about moving Freese somewhere else after what he did in that 2011 World Series? I don’t know, maybe. But I bet the Cards management is discussing that same thing right now. And I have a feeling that this will be Freese’s last year wearing the birds on the bat.