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Cardinals cut Wong loose, allowing him to join Molina, Wainwright as free agents

Cardinals cut Wong loose, allowing him to join Molina, Wainwright as free agents

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Cardinals V Cincinnati

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) scoops up a ground ball hit by Cincinnati Reds Shogo Akiyama (4) and throws to first base for an out in the first inning in a game between the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020, at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

ARLINGTON, TEXAS — In what can be read as the first hint of reduced spending and the unknowns of the 2021 baseball season, the Cardinals have elected to decline the option for second baseman Kolten Wong, a Gold Glove Award-winner and a keystone presence of the team for the previous seven seasons.

The Cardinals confirmed the decision Wednesday, the deadline for exercising a $12.5-million option.

There is a $1 million buyout. 

Wong immediately becomes a free agent.

"We have both agreed to keep the door open," John Mozeliak, president of baseball operations, said of a reunion with Wong as the market moves.

Mozeliak said Tommy Edman is, as of now, the starting second baseman.

In previous years, picking up Wong's option would have been a layup.

Wong, who just turned 30, took over the leadoff role for the Cardinals in 2020 and in the shortened season hit .265 with a .350 on-base percentage and a .675 OPS. He hit .275 with a .361 on-base percentage the season before, and over the past four seasons has defined himself as a player with the on-base percentage of a table-setter and one of the best gloves at his position in the majors.

A leader in many defensive metrics the past three seasons, he was awarded his first Gold Glove in 2019. He's a finalist for the award this season as one of the top three second basemen in the statistics used by Rawlings to determine the awards.

Wong took to Instagram to thank St. Louisans and express gratitude to his teammates and coaches. 

Some other news and notes from Mozeliak's (Zoom) meeting with the media:

• Paul Goldschmidt had surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. He was bothered by that during spring training, and the soreness was alleviated with some rest. He's recovering well, Mozeliak said.

• Ricardo Sanchez had Tommy John surgery to rebuild his left elbow. The Cardinals were concerned with the lefty's arm after he experienced soreness when the team emerged from the August outbreak.

• Mozeliak pre-emptively addressed the Randy Arozarena Experience and said that he would "own" that trade and that it would necessitate the team knowing its personnel better and not making the same mistake again.

After the final game of the World Series, 147 players were declared free agents.

For the first time in his career, that group includes Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina. At 38, Molina has spent the previous two decades with the Cardinals organization, and each time he neared free agency he and the team negotiated an extension months ahead of time. Molina is coming off a three-year, $60-million contract.

The other three Cardinals declared free agents early Wednesday were Adam Wainwright, Brad Miller and Matt Wieters.

Wainwright has been a free agent before, on paper. Before signing his incentive-laden deal for the 2019 season, the veteran righthander had to become a free agent in order to take a pay cut of more than 20 percent. The same rule is in play for Molina if the Cardinals' offer is less than the $20 million salary he would have had for a full 2020 season.

Molina is seeking a two-year deal, and he has stressed that his preference is to return to the Cardinals. He has instructed his agent multiple times over the past 12 months to engage with the Cardinals on contract talks.

He has said he will entertain interest from other teams.

Mozeliak has conversations planned with the agents for Wainwright and Molina this week.

Wainwright told the Post-Dispatch this summer that he and Molina talked in the clubhouse about their interest in remaining Cardinals and, if that didn't work out, going somewhere together for the next season.

The uncertainty for this year is the financial situation the Cardinals and Major League Baseball face coming out of a season with 60 games and no tickets sold by individual clubs. The Cardinals are not yet sure if they will be able to sell tickets for the 2021 season, how many fans they'll be able to have at games, or even how many games the 2021 season will have. There is a 162-game schedule that has been released, but the league acknowledges it has to be responsive to the coronavirus crisis and what the months ahead bring for the country and its COVID-19 spread.

Wong signed a five-year, $25.5 million extension during spring training 2016. He spoke that day about the commitment the Cardinals made to him and the challenge presented to become the player they were betting on him to be.

He has.

If exercised, the option would have brought the deal to a total value of $37 million. The option will also give the Cardinals some immediate clarity on their payroll, the look of their infield, and allow them to explore an extension with Wong on a less deadline-oriented timetable. 

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