The Dodgers and Giants are among the teams looking into the possibility of a trade for Brewers second baseman Kolten Wong, reports Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic. The Mariners are also known to have checked in as part of their search for a left-handed hitting second baseman.
Wong is one of the winter’s likelier trade candidates. Milwaukee has a loaded arbitration class that has led them to explore ways to alleviate a payroll crunch. The Brewers waived reliever Brent Suter, whom they apparently weren’t looking to tender a contract with a projected $3.1MM salary. Milwaukee tendered a contract to corner outfielder Hunter Renfroe, but they subsequently dealt him to the Angels for a trio of pitchers and knocked a projected $11.2MM salary off the books.
It appears they’re planning a similar strategy with Wong. The Brewers opened the offseason with a decision on the 32-year-old infielder, as his free agent deal contained a $10MM club option or a $2MM buyout. Milwaukee exercised the option, but Rosenthal writes the Brewers are expected to deal Wong at some point this offseason.
Wong is coming off an atypical season. A two-time Gold Glove winner, he’s been one of the sport’s top defensive second basemen throughout his career. His track record at the plate has been more mixed, but he paired arguably his best offensive season and his worst showing with the glove in 2022. Wong hit 15 home runs and put up a .251/.339/.430 line through 497 plate appearances, numbers that checked in 16 percentage points above league average according to wRC+. Statcast pegged him as the game’s worst defensive second baseman, though, estimating he was seven runs below average. Wong committed 17 errors, tying a career high, and he had the worst speed metrics of his career. At his age, Wong’s best days as a defender could be behind him, although it’s worth noting he also didn’t seem fully healthy. He lost a couple weeks in June to a right calf strain and acknowledged after the season he played through leg injuries (via Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).
The Brewers aren’t going to move Wong solely for the purpose of salary relief. Had they been completely set on cutting costs, they could’ve declined his option (or placed him on waivers in hopes another team would claim him and get them off the hook for the buyout). Milwaukee didn’t do that, but as with Renfroe, they don’t seem motivated to retain Wong at his current salary. Rather, they’ve apparently made the determination he has trade value at that $10MM price point and are looking to capitalize on that while creating additional payroll flexibility.
If they do move Wong, the Brewers could hand second base over to former first-round pick Brice Turang. Wong himself suggested after the season that Turang’s presence could inspire Milwaukee to let him go, as the young hitter is coming off a strong season for Triple-A Nashville. Turang, a left-handed hitter, is coming off a .286/.360/.412 showing in 131 games for the Sounds. Prospect evaluators regard him highly as a defender, and he’s now on the 40-man roster after being added to keep him out of the Rule 5 draft.
The Dodgers and Giants each have plenty of spending capacity. Both clubs are sure to take swings at top-of-the-market free agents, but Wong represents a solid fallback as each seeks to build out their infield. Los Angeles has seen Trea Turner hit free agency, while they declined a team option on Justin Turner. They’re possible suitors for any of this winter’s top four free agent shortstops — Trea Turner, Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa — but Rosenthal suggests they could pursue a top free agent and a Wong trade.
The thinking in that scenario would be to rely on Wong and an open market acquisition up the middle while turning third base over to Gavin Lux. Lux has only played six MLB innings at third base, spending the bulk of his time in the middle infield. Defensive Runs Saved and Statcast have loved his work at second base but been mixed on his shortstop defense. Statcast ranked Lux 155th out of 163 qualified infielders in arm strength this year, meaning he’d probably be stretched at the hot corner. Los Angeles also has a top third base prospect, Miguel Vargas, ready for a big league look after a .304/.404/.511 showing in Triple-A.
San Francisco already has a left-handed hitting second base option in Tommy La Stella. He’s under contract for $11.5M in the final season of a three-year free agent deal that hasn’t worked as hoped. La Stella owns a .245/.297/.380 line as a Giant, seemingly putting his path to everyday reps in jeopardy. The Giants could also explore the top of the shortstop market, perhaps with an eye towards kicking any acquisition over to second base in deference to Brandon Crawford. They’ve been prominently mentioned as the Yankees’ top rival on Aaron Judge, though, and landing a big-ticket shortstop would probably be off the radar if their pursuit of Judge proves fruitful.
While the Brewers have been open to talks on Renfroe and Wong, there’s no indication they’re planning a broad teardown of the roster. Listening to offers on quality role players with escalating price tags is par for the course for a Milwaukee franchise that consistently works to thread the needle of remaining competitive with mid-tier payrolls. Dealing someone like Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff or Willy Adames would be a far more impactful subtraction from the MLB roster, and it doesn’t appear GM Matt Arnold and his front office are eager to make a move of that kind.
Rosenthal unsurprisingly writes the Brewers are finding ample interest on Burnes, Woodruff and Adames but suggests they may be likelier to hold onto those players into the season and reevaluate their place in the standings closer to the trade deadline. All three players have two seasons of arbitration control remaining, and while it seems likely at least one member of that group will eventually be dealt, there’s no pressing concern for the Brewers to do so this offseason.