Drayer: What Mariners are getting in Kolten Wong, what’s next in offseason
Scratch second base off the offseason checklist for Jerry Dipoto and Justin Hollander as Friday afternoon the Mariners completed a trade with the Brewers sending a player they needed to move – Jesse Winker – and a player they really didn’t have a position for – Abraham Toro – to Milwaukee for a player they tried to acquire before the 2021 season – Kolten Wong.
While not the signing of one of the big four shortstops available on the free agent market — more on that below — Wong, who will play his age-32 season in 2023, represents a significant upgrade at the position. With the Brewers last year, Wong recorded 2.5 fWAR while slashing .251/.339/.430 (.770 OPS) and posting a career high 116 wRC+. In comparison at second base last season, the Mariners slashed .218/.278/.316 for 74 wRC+ and 0.4 fWAR.
“His game seems to be trending upward offensively,” Mariners general manager Justin Hollander told the media following the trade announcement. “He’s learning to elevate the ball. There’s a ton of contact.”
Hollander expressed optimism that the down year defensively the two-time Gold Glove winner had was an anomaly. Wong battled through leg issues that may have been part of the problem, but ultimately suffered through what Hollander called a slump with his hands.
“It’s not a range issue, I feel really good about that,” he said. “I don’t think the plus-defender just disappears in six months. Everyone runs through hot and cold streaks. We view his defense as a big positive as a part of this transaction.”
With limitations on the shift moving forward, the range that Hollander believes is plus will be critical. As for the hands, Hollander mentioned that infield coach Perry Hill had already been in contact with the new second baseman and was excited to get to work with him.
There had been rumblings in recent days that the Mariners could look to platoon at second base with Dylan Moore getting starts against left-handed starters. Wong could be a prime candidate for a platoon after slashing .277/.357/.489 (.846 OPS) against right-handers and .138/.266/.175 (.441 OPS) in 96 plate appearances against lefties in 2022. Hollander was not ready to commit to a platoon at second, but did indicate the plan was for Moore to play more at shortstop and second in 2023. This could add further value at both positions.
While an upgrade, the move for Wong appears to shut the door on the premier shortstop market for the Mariners. Hollander said they did communicate with those players and their agents early in the offseason but talks did not progress. He does not believe the preference to keep J.P. Crawford at shortstop was an issue.
“For the right player, we would have considered anything,” he said.
With the spot at second base filled, the focus turns to adding more offense.
“We definitely want to be opportunistic in the marketplace right now whether that is in free agency or trade to add more offense to our team if it’s available,” said Hollander. “Corner outfield is a spot where we feel we could add another bat. We have DH days and corner of days available.”
It is worth noting that the Mariners were able to acquire Wong without giving up prospects or one of their big league starters. Perhaps a combination of both will bring an impact bat.
Second base remains a need past 2023 as Wong is signed only signed for the upcoming season and there are no prospects in the system near big league ready at that position. For the immediate future at least, it is a position Hollander should not have to worry about.
“It’s been a huge area of struggle for us to find production at second base,” he said. “We felt like we had a chance between the addition of Kolten and what we could get from D-Mo using him all around the diamond including second base, we felt this is the move that made the most sense.”