We saw our second significant contract extension of the week on Wednesday, as the Cardinals announced that they locked up young second baseman Kolten Wong on a five-year deal with a club option for 2021. The deal is reportedly worth $25.5 million while the club option is for $12.5 million and carries a $1 million buyout.
Wong was previously on track to be arbitration-eligible for the first time after 2016. Now the Cardinals have bought out all three of his arbitration seasons and at least his first year of free agency. He’ll still have a chance for another big payday after either his age-29 or age-30 season.
The deal provides some security for Wong and looks like a potential bargain for the Cardinals, especially if he progresses at the plate. The 25-year-old appeared poised for a breakthrough last season, but he faded after a big first half and finished with a .262/.321/.386 batting line over 150 games. After hitting leadoff through June and July, his eventual struggles led to him mostly batting seventh down the stretch. It wasn’t what fantasy owners were hoping for, but when you factor in his all-around contributions, he was still good enough for 2.2 WAR (Wins Above Replacement) according to Baseball Reference.
Wong owns a measly .607 OPS against left-handed pitching so far in his career, which is noteworthy given that the Cardinals acquired Jedd Gyorko from the Padres over the winter. Gyorko, who signed a similar extension to Wong early on in his career, owns a .776 OPS against southpaws. This could turn into a platoon situation. Even if it does, Wong would get the majority of at-bats and his power-speed combo still gives him plenty of appeal at the second base position in fantasy leagues.
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Brantley Ahead of Schedule?
With their excellent pitching staff, the Indians have some momentum as a sleeper team in the American League. That’s despite a lineup which carries plenty of question marks, including the status of outfielder Michael Brantley, who required surgery in November to repair a torn labrum in his right (non-throwing) shoulder. Estimates have pegged him or a return in late April or early May, but there’s increased optimism out of Indians’ camp that he could beat that timetable.
After being limited to non-contact swings at the start of camp, Brantley recently progressed to taking soft tosses. The next big test will be hitting in the cage and eventually taking batting practice on the field. The 28-year-old has been shooting for Opening Day all along, which Indians manager Terry Francona still believes could be unrealistic, but he’s making encouraging strides.
“I’m glad he feels that way, because he’s trying to push to be ready,” Francona told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com. “In fairness to him, if I say that and then he doesn’t play on Opening Day, it will be like, ‘What happened?’ It’s not fair to him. He’s doing a really good job of getting ready. That’s good enough.”
The Indians recently lost Abraham Almonte to an 80-game PED suspension, so the club could open the season with an outfield consisting of Rajai Davis, Will Venable, Lonnie Chisenhall, Collin Cowgill, and Tyler Naquin. That doesn’t exactly scream contender, so getting a healthy and productive Brantley back will be key to their chances.
Brantley saw a slight dip in power and speed last season while missing time due to his shoulder and back, but he still finished with a fine .310/.379/.480 batting line to go along with 15 home runs, 84 RBI, and 15 stolen bases over 137 games. He had the highest contact rate in the majors and was just one of five qualified batters with more walks than strikeouts. There’s plenty of upside here, but also quite a bit of risk. Where he falls in fantasy drafts will hinge on what we hear in the next couple of weeks.
Progress for Boston’s Young Lefty
It was easy to think the worst after Eduardo Rodriguez tweaked his right knee while shagging fly balls on Saturday, but it looks like the Red Sox dodged a bullet with their young southpaw. After being shut down for three days, Rodriguez felt well enough to resume throwing on Wednesday. It wasn’t much, as he only threw off flat ground from a distance of 45 feet, but he’s moving in the right direction.
Rodriguez’s official diagnosis was a subluxation of the patella tendon in his knee, which is a fancy way of saying he dislocated his kneecap. He has been dealing with some swelling, but the good news is that no ligament or cartilage damage was found. The Red Sox will likely see how he responds to Wednesday’s throwing session before mapping out a plan, but there’s now cautious optimism about him being ready for the regular season.
Acquired from the Orioles in the Andrew Miller deal in 2014, Rodriguez is coming off an up-and-down rookie campaign in which he posted a 3.85 ERA and 98/37 K/BB ratio in 121 2/3 innings over 21 starts. There were some disaster outings mixed in there, but he also showed flashes of brilliance with his mid-90s fastball and solid changeup to go along with good control. He’s all but assured of a rotation spot going into 2016 and it’s not hard to imagine him taking another step forward very soon. You know, assuming his knee cooperates.
Quick Hits: Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said Wednesday that Andrew Miller will serve as the team’s closer during Aroldis Chapman’s 30-game suspension … Jarrod Dyson is expected to miss at least two weeks with a strained right oblique … Billy Hamilton will see some time at DH this spring as he makes his way back from shoulder surgery … Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicated that he doesn’t plan to use A.J. Ellis as Clayton Kershaw’s personal catcher in 2016 … The Blue Jays have reportedly begun preliminary extension talks with slugger Edwin Encarnacion … Hyun-Jin Ryu is taking a break from throwing after he felt some discomfort in his surgically-repaired shoulder during a recent bullpen session … Cameron Maybin exited Wednesday’s exhibition game against the Yankees for precautionary reasons after he suffered a left wrist contusion on a hit-by-pitch … Gerrit Cole (ribs) is on track to throw live batting practice this week … Brett Anderson was sent for tests Wednesday after he experienced back stiffness in a live BP session … The Giants will attempt to limit Brandon Crawford’s throws this spring as he deals with a sore shoulder … While he showed good velocity, Luis Severino was tagged for five runs over 1 1/3 innings against the Tigers on Wednesday … Luke Gregerson (oblique) threw his first bullpen session of the spring on Wednesday and hopes to make his Grapefruit League debut next week … Braves prospect outfielder Mallex Smith filled up the box score Wednesday against the Orioles by going 4-for-6 with a home run, two triples, a double, and six RBI ... Brett Gardner (wrist) isn’t expected to make his Grapefruit League debut until mid-March … Jung-Ho Kang (knee) is on track to ramp up baseball activities this week, though he’s not quite ready to run the bases … Bidding for a rotation spot, Aaron Sanchez struck out three batters and allowed a solo homer over two innings of work against the Phillies on Wednesday …. In some encouraging news, Diamondbacks right-hander Archie Bradley topped out at 96 mph with his fastball Wednesday against the Rockies while striking out two batters over two scoreless innings … White Sox manager Robin Ventura expects Jimmy Rollins to make the Opening Day roster … Reds prospect right-hander Robert Stephenson struck out two batters over two scoreless innings Wednesday against the Indians ... Byung-ho Park struck out in all three of his at-bats Wednesday against the Red Sox … Rangers prospect outfielder Nomar Mazara went 3-for-3 with a home run and four RBI against the Royals on Wednesday …