While most option decisions have a fairly obvious outcome, Wong’s was one of the few that was actually sort of difficult to predict. Long a defensive stalwart, he had perhaps his greatest offensive season in 2022 but took an odd step back in terms of his glovework. Faced with a net $8MM decision, it seems the Brewers have deemed Wong worthy of another go and have triggered his option for 2023.
The 32-year-old was drafted by the Cardinals and spent the first eight seasons of his career there from 2013 to 2020. He was fairly dependable in that regard, providing solid work on the dirt while hitting near a league-average level. Outside of his 2013 debut, he posted a wRC+ between 85 and 109 in each of his seasons in St. Louis, with 100 being the average mark. He never hit for much power, maxing out at 12 home runs as a single-season high as a Cardinal. However, he never struck out more than 16.4% of the time in that stretch and often proved a threat on the basepaths.
On the defensive side of things, Wong generally received positive reviews from the advanced metrics. Defensive Runs Saved gave him a positive number in each season from 2014 to 2020 except for 2017, with the highest being a 17 in 2019. That was easily the highest among second basemen that season, with Enrique Hernández coming in second at 12. Ultimate Zone Rating considered 2018 to be his standout campaign, giving him a 13.4 that year, nudging out DJ LeMahieu for the league lead at the keystone.
Prior to the 2016 season, he and the Cardinals agreed to a five-year extension that came with a $12.5MM option for 2021 with a $1MM buyout. Somewhat surprisingly, the Cards opted for the buyout and sent Wong to free agency, where he landed a two-year, $18MM guarantee from the Brewers with the option for 2023. Since coming to Milwaukee, Wong has had two consecutive above-average seasons at the plate, putting together a cumulative batting line of .262/.337/.439 for a wRC+ of 113. He’s found a little extra power, hitting 14 homers in 2021 and 15 in 2022 after never getting above 12 in previous seasons. He’s also continued to have his speed, swiping 29 bases over the past two years, including 17 in 2022.
As mentioned earlier, Wong’s typically strong defense took a turn for the worse in 2022. In terms of traditional stats, his 17 errors tied a career high from back in 2015. The advanced metrics weren’t keen either, with Wong pegged at a -1 DRS, -4.7 UZR and -9 Outs Above Average. “Defensively, it just wasn’t even my year,” Wong told Curt Hogg of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last month, before acknowledging that the club’s large arbitration class and impending arrival of prospect Brice Turang might lead to the Brewers choosing the buyout. “I’ve been a free agent one time already and it’s not the most enjoyable thing,” Wong added. “If I got to go through it again, it is what it is. It will be interesting to see where I’d end up landing. Milwaukee was a choice that I kind of had in mind going into free agency as a high pick for me. This next one, I just kind of want to keep an open mind and see how it goes.”
It seems Wong won’t have to worry about free agency for now, as the Brewers have decided he’s worth the $8MM investment. Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel spoke to Wong, who said the he is “stoked” about the decision, before going on to detail that his legs weren’t 100% healthy in 2022, which contributed to his defensive shortcomings (Twitter links).