There wasn’t a lot of roster construction that was done ahead of the 2021 Milwaukee Brewers season. One of the moves that was made, however, took fans a little bit by surprise.
On February 5th, 2021, the Brewers officially signed second baseman Kolten Wong to a two-year, $18MM contract with a third year team option. The 30-year-old had hit free agency for the first time after having his $12.5MM option declined by the St. Louis Cardinals that offseason.
Wong was coming off a slightly down offensive season by his standards, not that he was that much of a heavy hitter in the first place. But he was also coming off his second straight Gold Glove season as well as eight years with the only team he’d ever played for.
That made Wong one of the top free agent second basemen on the market. Second base wasn’t exactly an area of need for the Milwaukee Brewers that offseason, though.
The Brewers already had an incumbent in that department in Keston Hiura. The 2017 9th overall pick had even more of a down year himself in 2020 (.212/.297/.410), but he led the team in homers with 13 and was set to man the position again in 2021.
Still, Brewers president of baseball operations David Stearns leaves no stone unturned when it comes to improving his team. So as surprising as the move was, Milwaukee officially had its new second baseman.
Looking back at the surprising signing, the addition of Kolten Wong was a big reason for the Brewers’ 2021 success.
After joining the Brewers, Wong’s new assignment was clear. He would end up slotting in not only as the team’s new starting second baseman, but he would also find himself atop the team’s Opening Day lineup as their new leadoff hitter.
That role quickly proved it would suit Wong well. In that first game of the 2021 season against the Twins, he would go 1-for-3 with a walk, a hit by pitch, and two runs scored. His first run opened the scoring for Milwaukee and his second was part of an important three-run ninth inning that sent the game to extras, ultimately leading to a 6-5 Brewers win.
In providing the spark that the Brewers offense needed, Wong had one of his best offensive seasons as a pro. In 116 games, he slashed .272/.335/.447 with that slugging percentage marking a career high, as did his 14 home runs and 109 wRC+.
Seven of those 14 homers were of the leadoff variety, which tied for the second most in a season all-time for a Brewers hitter behind just Rickie Weeks’ eight back in 2010. Wong had just two leadoff homers for his entire career prior to 2021.
Wong also provided the same stellar defense we’ve come to expect throughout his career. He committed just two errors all season, the lowest he’s ever had in a season where he played more than 100 games, as well as six defensive runs saved, though he would end up getting snubbed for a third straight Gold Glove award.
The most unfortunate part of Wong’s first season with the Crew was the injuries. He spent three separate stints on Milwaukee’s injured list during the 2021 season, which is what limited him to those 116 games.
Wong also had a bit of a rough postseason offensively for the Brewers last year. He went just 1-for-15 with a walk and five strikeouts, though he was far from the only Milwaukee hitter who struggled in a four-game NLDS loss to the eventual world champion Atlanta Braves.
All in all, though, the Wong signing can be pointed to as a pretty clear win for the Brewers in year one. With a few less games missed due to injury, perhaps 2022 can look even better.