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Trade Retrospective: Cardinals trade World Series MVP David Freese to the Angels

This was almost like last week’s challenge-trade, as two teams swap major leaguers to fill needs for each side.

Chicago Cubs v St. Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

For the fourth straight offseason, BtBS is looking back on some of the biggest trades from years past. Check out all the entries here. This series was first started in 2016 by Spencer Bingol, who has been part of the Red Sox Baseball Operations department for the past two years. Congratulations to Spencer on the team’s recent World Series championship!

Short-after the 2013 season, the Cardinals traded World Series hero David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels in exchange for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. Freese and Bourjos were blocked at their respective positions, so giving them new homes was best.

In this trade retrospective series, trades will be evaluated based on what was known at the time. That is the only fair, logical way to evaluate trades and strip luck out of the equation: process over results. Having said that, we will still take a look at how the trade worked out for both parties.

The Deal

The Cardinals were coming off their second World Series loss to the Red Sox this century (at least they didn’t get swept this time). Their 97 wins did lead the NL and tied with the aforementioned Red Sox for the best record in baseball. Their future looked promising, but as with all contending teams, they had holes that needed addressing.

I am sure hometown hero David Freese will be remembered fondly for a long time as a result of his playoff exploits in 2011. He hit a superhuman line of .397/.465/.794 with 5 HR during that championship run, including MVP wins in both the ALCS and the World Series. Rangers fans might still cringe at the sound of his name, because he was the one that hit a two-run triple in Game Six of that World Series that tied the game. The Rangers were one strike away from winning it all.

Freese had the opposite of that postseason run in 2013, hitting just .179/.258/.268. He had a down year during the regular season, too, with a .322 wOBA that was over 30 points lower than the year before. He did suffer a back injury during Spring Training that year that might have affected his bat, though it was not just his offense that suffered. He was one of the worst fielding third basemen in baseball that year, even worse than Miguel Cabrera by UZR (but not DRS, or the eye test). His baserunning was as bad as Cabrera’s too! Put together this resulted in sub-replacement level play per Baseball Reference. With top prospect Kolten Wong having debuted in August and Matt Carpenter moving to third base as a result, it was definitely time to move on from Freese.

Peter Bourjos was also finding himself as the odd man out in Los Angeles. Mike Trout had cemented himself as the best player in baseball, and he played the same position as Bourjos. As good as Trout was in center field, Bourjos was even better — Keith Law described him “as one of the best defensive outfielders I have ever seen” — so the Angels tried to move Trout to left so that Bourjos could get regular playing time, and therefore give the team an optimum defensive outfield. The experiment only lasted a month. One might think it is because Bourjos did not hit enough, but that was not the case. He actually was hitting well through April, with a line of .313/.370/.458. He suffered a left hamstring injury that ended up keeping him out until June.

In fact, the oft-injured Bourjos only played 55 games that year due to injury, so Trout saw a lot of time back in center field. It was clearly the better option for him anyway, as he was never more than average in left field for some reason. After the 2013 season, Bourjos had been in the league four years, and during that time was frequently injured. His offense did not look too bad with a career line of .251/.306/.398, but that still not even average offense, and he was very inconsistent. With Kole Calhoun and the high priced Josh Hamilton on the team, it made Bourjos little more than a defensive replacement.

What the Angels needed was a third baseman. They barely got more than replacement level play from their third basemen that year, and there was not much available in the free agent market. As for the Cardinals, Jon Jay’s lack of ability in center field was apparent to anybody who watched him in the playoffs. There was a great option in free agency in Jacoby Ellsbury, but he would cost a premium. There were other trade targets available such as Dexter Fowler and Carlos González, but they would cost quite a bit more than Freese.

Fernando Salas was a throw-in and Randal Grichuk was a little more than that. Salas was nothing more than back of the bullpen guy, and he was coming off a year where he struck out less than 20 percent of batters faced. Grichuk was a first round draft pick in 2009, but he had been a disappointment, struggling with injuries and failing to perform when he did play. He did not project to be anymore than a fourth outfielder.

Bourjos had one more year on his rookie contract than Freese, and Grichuk was certainly preferable to Salas, so it would be fair to say that they got the edge in the trade. However, Freese was a great bounce back candidate, and despite some success at the plate in the past, Bourjos was seen as a player who could not hit. That turned out to be true.

The Results

During his first year in St. Louis, Bourjos hit just .231/.294/.348, but he managed 1.5 WAR thanks to his defense. Unfortunately, his defense slipped the following year in 2015, and his offense deteriorated even further, so the Cardinals waived him after that season. Since then he has bounced around a bit. He is still at least a plus defender, but he just can’t hit. He recently signed a minor league deal to return to the Angels.

Despite the low expectations for Grichuk, he ended up being the better player in the trade. He did not play much in the majors during his first year with the Cardinals, and he did not hit well when he did. He then broke out in 2015, hitting .276/.329/.548, good for a 138 wRC+ and 3.2 WAR, but that came with a .365 BABIP. He regressed to league average offensively in 2016, and then below that in 2017. His injury struggles, poor plate discipline, and low OBPs that plagued him in the minors did not get any better in the majors.

Grichuk might have still been useful as a fourth outfielder, but his bat was a huge question mark and he was about to enter arbitration. The Cardinals traded him to the Blue Jays almost exactly a year ago. I actually saw him in person during a rehab assignment with the Double A team in Manchester, NH. He had a nice bounce back season in 2018 by slashing .245/.301/.502 in 124 games, but again, he posted a poor OBP.

Freese did improve at the plate with the Angels, but he was not much better than average, and he was still missing significant time due to injury. He was still a solid player overall, though, and much better than any alternatives the Angels had. He left in free agency after 2015 and signed a cheap $3 million deal with the Pirates, splitting time between first and third base. He continued to be a more or less average player, so the Pirates brought him back on a two-year, $11 million deal with a $6 million team option.

Freese got traded to the Dodgers at the waiver-wire deadline last year, and then continued his playoff magic with the team by hitting .364/.423/.773 during the 2018 postseason. The Dodgers decided to bring him back, but believed that $6 million was too much. They bought him out at $500,000 and then re-signed him on a one-year, $4.5 million deal. The Dodgers of all teams going through all that just to save $1 million is ridiculous, but it happened.

Salas was actually pretty good during his first year with the Angels thanks to a 3.38 RA9. It did not last, however, and he ended up getting traded at the waiver-wire deadline to the Mets in 2016. He got DFAed almost a year later and wound up back with the Angels on a minor league deal. He played for the Diamondbacks last year, but he posted a 4.50 RA9 and 17.7 K% over 41 appearances. He was DFAed on July 5th and has not appeared in the majors since. He has not re-signed with a team as of the time of this writing.

Cardinals Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Peter Bourjos 3 0.5 $2.9
Randal Grichuk 6 7.2 $1.6
Total 9 7.7 $4.5
Baseball Reference

The Cardinals got little from Bourjos, but they got good productivity from Grichuk.

A little Cardinals Devil Magic happened here.

Angels Results

Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
Remaining Control WAR Salary (M)
David Freese 2 3.9 $11.5
Fernando Salas 3 0.2 $3.3
Total 5 4.1 $14.8
Baseball Reference, Spotrac

The above table only counts Salas’s first stint with the Angels that was the direct result of his trade. It might look like that the Angels should have hung on to Grichuk, but he can’t play third base. They still got good value from Freese, though, and certainly more than they would have gotten from Bourjos.

This was a good trade! It made sense on paper and the results worked out for both sides, even though it worked out for the Cardinals just because Grichuk turned out better than expected. You usually see something completely surprising come out of a trade’s results, but this was an uncommon instance where that was not the case.

. . .

Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.