The Cardinals have optioned second baseman Kolten Wong to Triple-A Memphis, the team announced tonight. The move will clear a spot for the activation of shortstop Jhonny Peralta from the disabled list — a move that will become official tomorrow. Peralta has spent the entire season to date on the disabled list due to a fractured left thumb.
General manager John Mozeliak revealed last week that upon Peralta’s activation from the disabled list, he would serve as the club’s everyday third baseman, with Matt Carpenter sliding over to second base. The shuffled defensive alignment will allow hot-hitting Aledmys Diaz to remain the Cardinals’ everyday shortstop, but it also vastly reduces Wong’s opportunity for playing time. Rather than reduce Wong to a bench role, the club has elected to send him to Memphis to get everyday at-bats.
While Wong’s production this season certainly merits the demotion — he’s batting just .222/.306/.286 on the season — the decision nonetheless had to be a difficult one for a Cardinals front office that just awarded Wong with a five-year, $25.5MM contract extension three months ago. Many pundits raised an eyebrow at the extension at the time given Wong’s second-half decline in 2015, but his overall .262/.321/.386 slash line from last season was sound, relative to his peers, and as a former first-round pick that batted .280/.343/.434 in the first half of that 2015 season, there was reason to believe that he could make some strides in terms of consistency and deliver a better overall performance in 2016. That, however, clearly has not been the case.
Diaz, on the other hand, has been an opposite tale. Initially signed to a four-year, $8MM contract as an international free agent out of Cuba, Diaz floundered throughout his early minor league tenure and was actually outrighted off the 40-man roster last July. Any club could’ve had him for the remainder of the $8MM on that deal, but he instead cleared waivers and remained in the Cardinals organization. While that seemed somewhat inconsequential at the time, it’s proven to be a godsend for the Redbirds in 2016, as Diaz forced his way onto the roster early in the season in the wake of Peralta’s injury and has subsequently batted .328/.359/.547 with eight homers in 206 plate appearances. While Diaz has been a liability with the glove — 12 errors, -5.4 UZR — his bat was enough for the Cardinals to designate presumptive Peralta stopgap Ruben Tejada for assignment recently and will now keep him in the team’s everyday plans.
The return of Peralta likely means reduced playing time for utility man Jedd Gyorko, whom the Cardinals picked up in an offseason swap that sent Jon Jay to the Padres. Gyorko had been serving as a platoon partner for the struggling Wong, but with Carpenter, Diaz and Peralta now set to receive regular plate appearances, it may become more difficult to work him into the lineup with regularity.