Going into the 2021 season, the Seattle Mariners were in the process of stabilizing their situation at second base, heavily courting free agent Kolten Wong to come in as a finishing piece to their rebuild.
“We were close to getting a deal done,” he said.
Wong, a native of Hawaii, preferred to stay closer to the West Coast after being drafted (first round in 2011) and developed by the Cardinals, playing eight major league seasons in St. Louis.
After the Mariners offered a two-year deal to Wong, the Brewers came in with a higher annual salary and a club option for a third season. The Mariners couldn’t match that, or weren’t allowed to match under a budget set by former president Kevin Mather, and their solution at second base went elsewhere.
Two years later, the Mariners will turn to Wong, now 32, to handle the second-base duties for the 2023 season.
With Adam Frazier exiting as a free agent after the season, the Mariners acquired Wong and $1.75 million from the Brewers in exchange for outfielder Jesse Winker and infielder Abraham Toro.
As we continue our Mariners position overviews, here’s a look at second base:
“I’m excited,” Wong said. “I’m at the point in my career now where I’m trying to win a ring. Obviously seeing what Seattle was able to do last year, the excitement they brought throughout baseball last year, it was definitely something that made me as a player excited to come here.”
Wong is coming off a productive 2022 season with Milwaukee, where he posted a .251/.339/.430 slash line with 24 doubles, four triples, 15 homers, 65 runs scored, 47 RBI, 17 stolen bases, 46 walks and 88 strikeouts in 134 games. Per FanGraphs, he posted a 2.5 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), which would’ve been higher if not for defensive metrics that lowered the overall measure.
Admittedly, Wong had one of the worst defensive years of his career. He committed 17 errors, the most of any second baseman in baseball, which was absurd considering he was a Gold Glove-winning second baseman in 2019 and 2020.
“Defensively, it was a really down year for me,” he said. “I’m always gonna kind of go to my flaws before I go to the successes. It is something that I’ve been working hard on this year.”
When he was traded, Wong immediately got in touch with infield guru Perry Hill.
“I’m excited to get with him in the next few weeks,” Wong said. “I’m excited to get with him already. I don’t want to wait till spring training. I don’t want to wait around and waste time. I want to start as soon as possible.”
Wong believes that the new rules banning shifts in baseball will be to his advantage and help him find his feel on ground balls again.
“I feel like not having to shift is definitely going to make it better for me,” he said. “I was put in some situations last year where I just wasn’t comfortable and got some weird hops. I’m excited to play with no shifts.”
Why will it help?
“I’m a guy that I like to use my feet,” he said. “I like to be able to not calculate my stance, but just understand what foot is important to catch the baseball. And sometimes when you’re put in those weird positions, you’re kind of put in a standstill and there was a lot of balls last year where it hit to me in such a weird position that I wasn’t able to kind of like really work around it and get through it.”
The Mariners would like to not use Wong with tough left-handed starting pitchers on the mound. They will look to use Dylan Moore on those occasions if he isn’t already filling in for J.P. Crawford at shortstop.
If Wong can return to his previous defensive form, the Mariners will have plus defenders at every position in the infield. He reached out to Crawford almost immediately after being traded.
“I talked to him for a little bit and I’m very excited,” Wong said. “You watch him play and you see a guy who’s out there grinding every single day and who plays the game the right way. He has that swagger. And defensively, he’s one of the premier guys you want to watch. I feel like me and him up the middle, it’s kind of the same guy on both sides with the same mentality.”
Wong will be a free agent after this season and the Mariners don’t necessarily have a player in their system ready to step in to be an everyday player in 2024. Moore, who recently signed a contract extension, is most valuable as a utility player who can be used all over and against left-handed pitchers.
Perhaps if Wong plays well this season, they will look at bringing him back for another season. But it’s likely they will have to look outside of the organization in 2024.
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