March 27, 2017
Blindsided, Bothered, and Bewildered
Wong frustrated by potential platoon
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny announced Saturday that he was considering a second base platoon for the upcoming season. It was an unexpected revelation, not only for the media but for starting second baseman Kolten Wong, who was under the impression that he had an everyday role on lock. Wong addressed the change prior to the Cardinals’ game on Sunday, telling the press that he felt the team did not believe in him and going so far as to say that he would rather be traded than benched.
While Wong walked back some of his extreme remarks later in the day, the frustration he felt continued to boil over. He explained that he had entered camp focused on refining his swing mechanics rather than trying to win spring training games, and wasn’t aware that underperforming in exhibition games would jeopardize his starting role on the team. “I just got mad at the fact, thinking, I’m over here trying to work on things, trying to get myself better,” he told Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Not trying to go out here and have an amazing spring training. I’m trying to go out there and have an amazing season.”
Matheny’s reasons for platooning his second basemen don’t appear to be vindictive, nor do they appear to hinge entirely on Wong’s collapse during this year’s Grapefruit League competition. At 26 years old, Wong is a defense-first second baseman who holds a career .251 TAv. He’s the club’s strongest defensive option at the keystone, but has never been much of an offensive threat and likely won’t blossom into a .300 hitter anytime soon. Waiting in the wings, meanwhile, are utility infielders Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia, each of whom have impressed with breakout performances in camp and have more to offer at the plate than Wong.
Is this a lot of hullabaloo over nothing? Yes and no. Wong won’t lose his starting role right away—per Matheny’s comments, the job is still his if he can perform well right out of the gate—but with Gyorko and Garcia on his heels he’ll need to prove he’s capable of delivering consistent results and taking a well-rounded approach to the position.
Smith slated for surgery
What looked like a minor case of elbow inflammation has blossomed into a serious problem for Giants setup man Will Smith. The 27-year-old left-hander was diagnosed with inflammation in his pitching elbow back in February, and attempted to pitch in back-to-back spring training games after several weeks of rehab. Instead of proving his readiness for the season, the increased activity aggravated the existing elbow injury, causing a sprain and strain that will cost him the entire 2017 season. Smith accepted the recommendation of Tommy John surgery from Dr. Ken Akizuki and Dr. Neal ElAttrache, both of whom identified a tear in the reliever’s elbow.
Smith was acquired at the trade deadline in 2016 and was expected to handle the seventh and eighth innings ahead of closer Mark Melancon in 2017. He’s still under team control through 2019 and will likely be healthy enough to rejoin the team sometime during the 2018 season. Until then, the Giants are in a bit of a pickle as Opening Day approaches. According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft and Owen Perkins, left-handers Steven Okert and Josh Osich and right-handers George Kontos, Derek Law, Cory Gearrin, and Neil Ramirez appear to be in the mix, though none have emerged as frontrunners so far.
Rays shopping for outfield depth
Opening Day is less than a week away, but the Rays still have some tinkering to do with their lineup. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that they’re on the hunt for another right-handed bat, preferably one that doubles as a backup center fielder or shortstop. Ideally, Topkin writes, the backup position player would come with a hot bat and minor-league options, though that may be a nearly impossible get during this time of year.
Center fielder Kevin Kiermaier is in no danger of losing his starting position, but his outstanding glovework was paired with a less-outstanding .266 TAv and career-best 12 home runs in 2016. While the Rays don’t appear to be hurting for outfield depth, it’s unlikely that they’d turn down an affordable power hitter who could complement Kiermaier’s efforts in center. Topkin speculates that outfielders like Peter Bourjos, Bryce Brentz, B.J. Upton, Rob Refsnyder, Justin Ruggiano, and Austin Jackson could be on the Rays’ radar at some point during the season.
The infield situation looks a little more precarious in light of Matt Duffy’s lengthy rehab process. Manager Kevin Cash doesn’t have a timetable for the shortstop’s return, leaving Nick Franklin, Brad Miller, and Tim Beckham to handle the middle infield, with utility man Daniel Robertson as a potential backup. None of the Rays’ infield options look formidable with a bat, however, and the club’s best bet may be to draw on outside support if they want to find a right-handed bat capable of transcending a .250 average in 2017.