NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the Cardinals continue to explore the trade market for a potential outfield addition, it's no surprise that clubs have often asked for top prospects in return. But there has also been widespread interest in players who have already ascended to the Majors, one of those being second baseman Kolten Wong.
Though Wong, who signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract in March, has not yet pieced together six consecutive months of steady production, his athleticism, age (Wong turned 26 in October) and contract are appealing to several other clubs. The catch, however, is that the Cardinals are bullish on Wong's potential for the same reasons.
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While general manager John Mozeliak will trade anyone for the right return, parting with Wong would require a pivot in the team's offseason plans. A big reason why the club has zeroed in on improving its outfield instead of adjusting the infield look is because it believes Wong's presence at second will address the team's stated priorities of improving defensively and injecting athleticism onto the roster.
"None of us have shied away from the fact that this should be a top-tier defender at second base," manager Mike Matheny said of Wong. "And we're never going to back off that, and neither should he. … He's going to have to go out there, and he's going to have to fight through some of those lulls that the game just brings. I saw him grow up last year through the adversity, and I see some exciting things ahead for him."
The Cardinals' verbal commitment to Wong isn't new. The club inked him to a multiyear deal last Spring Training and had every intention of using him as an everyday second baseman during the season. Those plans were rewritten midseason, however, as lingering offensive lulls by Wong often prompted Matheny to play someone in his place.
By mid-June, Wong was down in Triple-A trying to rediscover his swing and his spark. He finished the season with a .682 OPS, 71 starts at second base and a slash line of .240/.327/.355.
The question now becomes whether the Cardinals are ready to stick with Wong if similar inconsistencies resurface.
"Clearly, I don't make lineups, but you have to have the understanding of patience," Mozeliak said on Day 2 of the Winter Meetings on Tuesday. "I do think he's one of those rare talents that by not being patient or by not understanding that there still could be some bumps in the road might end up not helping him long-term for his career.
"He's such a talented defender. And when your team is built around ground-ball pitchers, it's nice to have that behind you."
With Wong known to be the Cardinals' preferred Opening Day second baseman, it would appear counterproductive for the club to deal him away now. Mozeliak agreed, though he also noted that plans can change depending upon a package offered. There's been nothing of that sort that has moved the needle for the Cardinals thus far this offseason.
Added Mozeliak: "We're not actively shopping him."
As for what the Cardinals are shopping for, they haven't found it yet. The team continues to explore free-agent and trade market options that could address its outfield void, but still don't have clarity as to which market will present the eventual answer. The Cardinals are still exploring approximately a half-dozen options as their stay at the Winter Meetings continues.
"It's still trying to decide what makes the most sense," Mozeliak said. "When you think about how we make decisions or how we process things, it's trying to judge short-term versus long-term, prospects versus cash. [We're] just trying to work through that now."