Kolten Wong’s declined option casts ugly shadow over 2020 free agency

DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 11: St. Louis Cardinals Second base Kolten Wong (16) makes a throw to first base for an out during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on September 11, 2019 at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 11: St. Louis Cardinals Second base Kolten Wong (16) makes a throw to first base for an out during a game between the Colorado Rockies and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals on September 11, 2019 at Coors Field in Denver, CO. (Photo by Russell Lansford/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /
facebooktwitterreddit

The St. Louis Cardinals declined second baseman Kolten Wong’s $12.5 million option for the 2021 season, casting uneasiness on the 2020 free agent market.

The Major League Baseball off-season has already become nightmare fuel for fans, as teams declined options on a number of players Wednesday. But that’s normal off-season action.

The real surprise came when the St. Louis Cardinals announced that they would not be picking up Kolten Wong’s option for 2021.

Wong has been an important part of the organization for years, and had a $12.5 million option. The Cardinals chose to exercise a $1 million buyout.

More Cardinals. Gibson the best of the 60s. light

It’s an odd move for a team that just made a playoff appearance. Wong is a productive player. He doesn’t hit the ball particularly hard, but he’s a gold glove winner up the middle. He posted an fWAR over 2.0 from 2017-2019 and a 1.3 fWAR in the 60 game 2020 season.

He’s absolutely worth the $12.5 million option. And any other season, the Cardinals wouldn’t have had a problem exercising it.

But 2020 was no ordinary season. Without fans in attendance, many teams are in a bad place financially. And when the Cardinals declined Wong’s option, they set the tone for 2020 free agency.

It’s going to be a lean year. Especially with recent speculation that the 2021 season is also in trouble due to Covid-19.

The top players on the market will still get their big pay days. Teams will be willing to take the financial hit on a guy like Trevor Bauer or J.T. Realmuto knowing they’ll still be around once the league returns to status quo.

But the middle-tier guys will suffer. Guys like Kolten Wong, a productive player who likely won’t command anything close to that $12.5 million option on the open market. Like Didi Gregorius, coming off a decent year but won’t garner long term interest due to expected league-wide payroll cuts and a shortstop-heavy 2021 free agent market. An arm like James Paxton, who barely pitched in 2020 due to injury but has proven he has ace-level stuff.

Teams have no incentive to make that risky, mid-range deal when there are more affordable options that can provide a similar overall output. There are going to be a lot of one year deals handed out to those players for an AAV way below what they should command. And the 2021 free agency market doesn’t look any more promising with the expiring CBA agreement. There’s going to be a lot of frustration among fanbases wondering why their team isn’t signing some pretty good players.

Next. Molina still worth two years. dark

We’re in for a brutal off-season. And the St. Louis Cardinals letting Kolten Wong hit the open market is the first concrete sign of it.