Brewers Contract Option Decisions: What To Do With Kolten Wong

MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 21: Kolten Wong #16 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on against the New York Mets during a game at American Family Field on September 21, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WISCONSIN - SEPTEMBER 21: Kolten Wong #16 of the Milwaukee Brewers looks on against the New York Mets during a game at American Family Field on September 21, 2022 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images) /
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The offseason is officially upon us after the Houston Astros won the World Series. That means the Brewers can start making decisions and making moves to set up their 2023 roster. One of the first decisions they will have to make is on second baseman Kolten Wong.

Prior to the 2021 season, the Brewers signed Kolten Wong as a free agent to a two year contract with a club option for a third year. He only became a free agent after the Cardinals declined a $12.5MM club option on him. He provided an immediate boost to the Brewers in 2021, helping the Crew win the NL Central over the Cardinals that year.

Many wondered how the Cardinals ever declined his option that was for a fairly reasonable salary. Now, two years later, the Brewers find themselves in the same position, possibly having to decline a contract option for Kolten Wong on a reasonable salary.

The Brewers face a tough decision on whether to decline or pick up Kolten Wong’s contract option for 2023.

When Kolten Wong hit .272/.335/.447 with career highs in doubles (32), home runs (14), and OPS+ (110) in 2021, it seemed like he was on the path to getting that club option picked up for a third year.

Then in 2022, Wong hit some regression. He got off to a very slow start both offensively and defensively. He ended up getting hot coming out of the All Star Break, which led to him turning in a solid .251/.339/.430 slash line with a new career high in homers (15) and OPS+ (118).

While the batting average dipped, his OBP increased and he continued his power surge. Wong has hit 29 homers combined in two seasons in Milwaukee. He had 30 home runs combined in his last five seasons in St. Louis.

But the defensive regression was concerning, and the offense was underwhelming for a large part of the season. Could that late season surge be enough to convince the Brewers to sign up for another year? In a different situation, probably, but in the situation the Brewers currently find themselves in, it’s doubtful.

Declining Kolten Wong’s contract option is a necessary move given the Brewers payroll and infield situation.

If the Brewers weren’t suffering from payroll constraints, or an “economic reality” as Mark Attanasio calls it, and if they didn’t have a ready-made replacement, they would probably pick up Wong’s option for next year at the fairly reasonable rate of $10MM.

However, the Brewers do have a payroll crunch with several key players entering arbitration, and they do have a replacement at second base ready to go in Brice Turang. Turang spent the entire 2022 season in Triple-A, hitting a solid .286/.360/.412 with 13 homers and 34 stolen bases. He will be added to the 40 man roster in a few weeks in order to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft and he was deserving of a call up late in the season. One of the reasons they didn’t call up Turang was that Wong was here.

There’s nothing more for Brice Turang to prove in Triple-A, he’s ready for an opportunity and the Brewers need to give it to him. He’s a shortstop by trade but with Willy Adames still under contract for the next two years, second base is the easiest place to move Turang.

Turang will make league minimum salary in 2023. Wong would make $10MM. In a salary crunch, that makes Turang the more attractive option. Plus, with his pedigree and performance, there’s no reason to expect a drop off in production at second base with Turang instead of Wong. There might even be an increase in production.

The Brewers would have to pay Wong a $2MM buyout if they decline his option, so really it’s an $8MM decision. But after hitting a record payroll in 2022 and being on pace for yet another record payroll in 2023 before they even make any additions, declining Wong’s option makes a lot of sense.

It makes sense financially, and it makes sense from a baseball perspective with Turang ready to step in to decline Wong’s option.

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It’s tough to see someone like Wong go, a veteran leader who has been productive, but that’s the most likely and most logical course of action for the Brewers to take.

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