After Thursday’s thrilling walk off win, the Cardinals continued to make the future the present, by promoting second baseman Kolten Wong from Triple-A Memphis. The latest pull from the club’s minor league talent pool is sure to spark an immediate debate about who should be in the daily starting lineup (a la Matt Adams), but what’s for certain is that the club is completely committed to putting its absolute best talent into this pennant chase much sooner than later.
It has not been John Mozeliak’s style to pull prospects into up and to have them not contribute. But already this week, the club has promoted top pitching prospect Michael Wacha to bolster the bullpen, and has already flirted with Carlos Martinez in a similar role, and he’ll most likely return to that capacity when the rosters expand in a few weeks. On the heels of the team’s non-involvement in recent trade deadline, it has become clear that the team is going all in on using its system to add what’s needed, and will be pulling as much of its top talent as possible to the 25-man roster.
No matter how it is viewed, there are not 25 better players in the organization than Wong. The 2011 first round pick hit .303 in 412 at-bats in his first season in Triple A and made his second consecutive MLB Futures Game at the All-Star Game, all while clearly being in a holding pattern due to the success of Matt Carpenter at second base.
And while he is clearly qualified and ready to be with the Cardinals, the timing is curious for a variety of reasons, mainly because there still isn’t a clear route to him regularly contributing to the team…or is there? While Carpenter has not relented, David Freese has continued to yield more and more grasp on his everyday value to the team. In 391 plate appearances, Freese has hit six home runs on the season, which is just one more than Daniel Descalso has managed in 150 less opportunities in a utility role. Run in the fact that he is also due for an arbitration-mandated raise this winter, and it suddenly makes a lot of sense why Wong is here now.
Wong’s presence on the roster also adds a much needed boost to the depth of the team. While Adams has been a constant impact presence from the bench all year, the team has struggled to find identity and consistent impact outside of its regulars mostly. Wong will give Mike Matheny a similar flexibility that Wacha can bring to the bullpen: a flex option that can put higher level of available talent at all times.
A regular bench of Adams, Descalso, Wong, the backup catcher (Johnson or Cruz) and the returning Shane Robinson makes for much better strategic usage of the full roster throughout later games. The fact that Yadier Molina will be on a managed time schedule for the remainder of the regular season will also factor into the caliber of lineup options that are available, further the need to have as much impact possible spread around the rest of the lineup as well. The less than thrilling 7-8-9 combination of Johnson, Kozma and the pitcher spot showed that having more offense punch available is a must. And as this week’s matchups with the Pirates have proven, the entire roster maybe needed to win on a day-to-day basis, let alone series and season.
While the long-term implications of the presence of Wong on the roster are clear and unavoidable, in an immediate sense, his presence is just as strategic as it is symbolic. Time will tell, in an immediate sense, just how that strategy plays out.