Nostalgia, Loyalty Not Enough to Keep David Freese a Cardinal

Ely SussmanCorrespondent INovember 22, 2013

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 27:  David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals looks on against the Boston Red Sox during Game Four of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Barely two years removed from establishing himself as a World Series hero and a contract-extension candidate, David Freese was traded by the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday afternoon:

Today the club acquired INF David Freese and RHP Fernando Salas from the @Cardinals in exchange for OF Peter Bourjos and OF Randal Grichuk.

— Los Angeles Angels (@Angels) November 22, 2013

This expulsion from the organization speaks volumes about how disappointed St. Louis was in Freese's recent performance. Acquiring him from the San Diego Padres was John Mozeliak's first major transaction as general manager (h/t Derrick Goold, St. Louis Post-Dispatch), so letting him go was understandably gut-wrenching:

As you can imagine, trading somebody with the history of @dfreese23 & what he meant to this organization - it's never an easy decision- Mo

— St. Louis Cardinals (@Cardinals) November 22, 2013

In general, the Cardinals are extraordinarily loyal to players that rise through their farm system. The vast majority of their 2013 NL-pennant-winning roster was comprised of such individuals.

But the front office evidently doesn't trust Freese to improve upon this past summer's replacement-level production.

From an offensive perspective, his age-30 season was clearly inferior to his previous three campaigns:

David Freese's Regular-Season Stats, 2010-2013
YearPABA/OBP/SLGHROPS+
2010270.296/.361/.4044109
2011363.297/.350/.44110118
2012567.293/.372/.46720129
2013521.262/.340/.3819101
Baseball-Reference.com

St. Louis used to be grateful for his high batting average and solid on-base skills, but that 2013 triple-slash line wasn't any better than what MLB third basemen posted collectively.

And Freese's rough defense at the hot corner didn't come close to compensating. According to FanGraphs, only Miguel Cabrera rated worse at the position in terms of DRS, and nobody rivaled his awful -22.7 UZR/150.

These struggles were also easily recognizable to the naked eye.

Consider the following postseason examples:

Mind-boggling production with runners in scoring position isn't going to carry the Cardinals to another NL Central title; improving with the gloves was a high priority entering this offseason.

Despite a .988 fielding percentage, they ranked 27th in the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating and allowed the National League's third-highest batting average on balls in play.

Of course, Freese shouldn't be held wholly responsible for their subpar fielding. Center fielder Jon Jay also had issues, and Matt Carpenter never looked completely comfortable at second base.

However, as ESPN's Jim Bowden explains via Twitter, exchanging Freese for Peter Bourjos instantly remedies several of the team's ills:

Carpenter moves to 3B, Wong moves to 2B, Bourjos takes over CF and Cards now better defensively at all three positions

— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) November 22, 2013

Although it seems cruel that the Cardinals shipped Freese across the country, the move spared them from a more awkward situation—not tendering him a contract.

Matt Swartz of MLB Trade Rumors projected him to receive a pay raise from $3.15 million to $4.4 million in his second year of arbitration eligibility. That's a gutsy commitment to make to a possibly declining player who's vulnerable to injury.

There was also a non-analytical side to all of this.

Freese grew up in the St. Louis area and admired the Cardinals. During his outstanding hot streak in the 2011 playoffs, he told Andy McCullough of The Star-Ledger about how he was "flattered" by the community's outpouring of support.

With that said, those closest to Freese admit that representing his hometown team also had its challenges:

Friends of David Freese say it'll be a good thing for him to play somewhere other than in his hometown,which has been overwhelming at times.

— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) November 22, 2013

Cardinals fans will always cherish Freese's clutch contributions, but shouldn't let nostalgia affect their perception of this trade. It's in the best interest of all parties.

 

Ely is a national MLB Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report and a sportscaster for 90.5 WVUM in Miami. He wants to make sweet, social love with all of you on Twitter.