He was set for life.
That’s what we all thought in the giddy days of October 2011. The local boy had become the national hero. He could write his own ticket and there were so many great days to come. Imagine what he could do if he was healthy, we thought!
2012 did little to disabuse us of that notion. 20 home runs is nothing to sneeze at, especially in this day and age. An All-Star (albeit one that made it with via the gimmick of the social media-infused “Final Vote”) and a guy that was well liked around the area. It seemed likely that his salary went much farther than it normally would, given the free meals and drinks that grateful St. Louisians were still heaping upon him.
Obviously there wasn’t much to recommend Freese’s 2013. A decline across the board, including defensively, really gets people antsy, especially when you are in your arbitration years. (BTW, how wise does it look to have the Cards not sign a long-term deal with him after 2011? It’s like John Mozeliak knows what he’s doing.) He went from 3.8 bWAR last year to -0.3 bWAR this past season. Not what you want to see from a guy that got a late start and, as such, could be on the downside of his prime years.
Of course, this means that Kolten Wong really needs to be ready. There’s no significant backup if he struggles (Daniel Descalso, I guess, would have to go right now) and that would cause a lot of angst, I think. I do think that Wong will be fine with regular playing time, but it’s something that adds to the risk of the deal.
It wasn’t just Freese that went to the Angels, of course, but also Fernando Salas, another one of the 2011 heroes. (Between these two gone and Chris Carpenter retiring, it’s a rough week for that World Series winning team.) Salas, as you’ll see when his Exit Interview comes up (and that’s much more appropriate now), was a fairly good low-leverage reliever. It’s when you put him into situations that were fraught with import that he became pretty–well, not good. If he’s used as a regular arm, the Angels will probably get some value out of him.
Freese and Salas, now wearing Albert Pujols red. So what about the guys coming over?
There seems to be a lot of varying opinions on Peter Bourjos. Nobody doubts his defense and his offense seems to be adequate. The problem is keeping him on the field, which to be fair was the knock on David Freese before the 2012 season as well and that was something Freese overcame. Bourjos’s similarity scores over at Baseball Reference don’t necessarily add to the excitement, but that’s not an exact science, especially given his limited time on the field.
This would seem to be the point when I again point out that Jon Jay was the Top Goat of 2013 and the Top Goat has never played another game for the Cardinals in all the years I’ve been doing this. (Freese came one shy of tying him for that mark and you see what happened to him.) Being that Bourjos bats right-handed, I think Jay is likely safe, at least for right now. Shane Robinson, however, is likely feeling a little anxiety today.
I know our friend Bob Netherton is ecstatic about this deal. After all, he’s been wanting Bourjos for over a year. However, given that I felt that Freese could bounce back and give the Cardinals a solid bench bat (if nothing else) and the idea that Matt Carpenter‘s offensive production won’t be quite as astounding at third as it was at second, I wasn’t quite sure how to come down on this deal.
What finally tipped me into the “good trade” camp was the inclusion of the prospect Randal Grichuk. It’s not that Grichuk is necessarily all that and a bag of toasted ravioli, but he’s not expected to be chopped liver either. He ranked seventh (some had him as high as second) in the Angels list of top prospects, but given the strength of their system compared to the Cardinals, it’s likely he’d be farther down on their list.
Still, a power-hitting outfield prospect is never going to go amiss. The Cards can take some time with him, what with a full outfield at the moment and Oscar Taveras and Stephen Piscotty coming up. I believe the Texas League is an offensively-leaning league, but it’s not one of those that has everyone put up crazy numbers. The power is there, so if St. Louis can get him to be more disciplined, he might move up the ranks pretty quickly as well.
Oh, and after all that, Mo’s actually lowered the payroll for 2014. Yes, he’s that good.
So Mozeliak has strengthened the defense without blowing a hole in the offense or giving up any of his pitching surplus. He’s not addressed the biggest issue yet–with a weaker bat (and that’s somewhat debatable, given what Jay brings to the table; Jay might have hotter streaks, but he can be ice cold as well) in Bourjos, the Redbirds won’t be able to have another automatic out–but he’s not harmed his negotiating position in the least.
There are still a lot of chips to be pushed around the table. The winter is just starting to heat up!