There are many different levels to the trade the St. Louis Cardinals made Friday afternoon, dealing David Freese and a pitching prospect, Fernando Salas, for center fielder Peter Bourjos and an outfield prospect, Randal Grichuk.
At the major league level, this works perfectly for the Cardinals. Without Freese in the way, Matt Carpenter, a natural third baseman who filled in admirably at second, can move to where his bat still plays, and his glove is likely to be better.
Kolten Wong, a top prospect who profiles as a plus major league second baseman, looks ready to take over the job in St. Louis next year. Though he struggled in his first 62 plate appearances with the Cardinals, he’s barely 23, and his minor league body of work suggests his St. Louis struggles were temporary.
At once, the move improves the Cardinals’ defense at two positions significantly. Freese, per the metrics and the eye test, struggled mightily at third. And Wong looks to solidify an up-the-middle defense to a greater extent than Carpenter, whose average glove was sufficient in part because his hitting was so strong, and in part because the Cardinals didn’t really have another option on hand.
And that’s before taking into account who they got back. Bourjos was slightly below average, per UZR, in 2013 in center field, but defensive metrics are unreliable over a single season, and that was in just over 415 innings, compared to a body of work that rates him as an excellent defender.
Even if he were merely average, though, he’s still a massive upgrade over the 2013 season Jon Jay had out there. Jay finished with a -7.5 UZR/150, looked even worse in the playoffs, and hasn’t been even an average center fielder defensively in any season save 2012.
Oh, did I mention the Cardinals got younger at three positions in the process? Carpenter is about to turn 28, while Freese will be 31 in April, and Jay is a full two years older than Bourjos.
But the real kicker here isn’t just that the Cardinals are bailing on Freese, a player beyond 30 who showed alarming decline in his hitting and fielding this year. They’re giving up on David Freese, the guy who kept them in Game 6 of the World Series back in 2011, twice. Players like this don’t tend to get traded without massive resistance from a team’s fans.
Yet the blowback from fans in St. Louis is likely to be minimal, if there’s any at all. That’s what happens when your team’s general manager, John Mozeliak, lets the best hitter the franchise has employed since Stan Musial leave via free agency, and turns his compensatory pick into the MVP of the 2013 NLCS.
It’s St. Louis. So the next time Freese comes to town, with the Angels or some other team, he’ll get a huge ovation.
But it’s the Cardinals. So they’re not going to miss him. They’re going to get better.