ST. LOUIS — Baseball is a business, and the pandemic is hard on business.
Prepare to hear this message often from the Cardinals this offseason.
Message received. Loud and clear.
Especially after the Cardinals on Wednesday passed on a $12.5 million option for Gold Glove second baseman Kolten Wong, paying the 30-year-old leadoff hitter $1 million to hit free agency instead of bringing him back to help anchor one of the best defenses in baseball. Wong's 1.1 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference, ranked second among Cardinals on the 2020 team. Don't underestimate the impact of his departure on a defense that just led MLB in defensive runs saved.
If you are expecting the money saved to be directed toward upgrading the Cardinals' lagging lineup, that would seem to be an optimistic assumption.
Listening to Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak's Wednesday night teleconference with media members, the Cardinals do not sound like a team shifting from run suppression toward run creation.
It sounds like one downshifting toward a payroll cut.
"Revenues are going down," Mozeliak said. "So, it will be most likely where payroll will go down."
The Cardinals won't be the only club pointing to these talking points in the coming weeks. But they should not be surprised if the fans who so loyally fill the team's coffers during the good times respond accordingly.
Right now, many of those fans — and not just the vocal minority of angry Twitter users — are feeling frustrated, fairly, because a team with excellent pitching and excellent defense will not make a clear commitment to finding ways to improve its glaring weakness. The Cardinals' offense has spent the past two seasons residing in the National League's bottom-third in most hitting statistics. Twice in two postseasons, the Cardinals have showed up to the postseason with the lowest slugging percentage of any playoff team.