The St. Louis Cardinals finally made their first major move of the offseason by trading David Freese to the Angels. The Cards sent Freese and enigmatic relief pitcher Fernando Salas to L.A. for speedy outfielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk.
Trading Freese makes room for breakout star Matt Carpenter to move to third base. Rookie Kolten Wong will then fill in for the Cardinals at second base in place of Carpenter. The trading of Freese was not surprising after a frustrating 2013 for the former World Series MVP, but the question was what the Cardinals would be able to get in return.
The answer is Bourjos, a possible everyday center fielder with an outstanding glove when healthy. Bourjos with his impressive athleticism showed promise before injuries opened the door for Mike Trout to take over in the Angels’ outfield during the 2012 season. The trade is interesting because both teams got rid of an injury-riddled player at a position that they feel is covered anyways. The flip side to that is obviously that both teams will hope for their new player to return to health and form and thus fill a certain need on their respective club.
The question now for Cardinal Nation is what to make of incumbent centerfielder Jon Jay. The Cardinals got rid of a decent chip to obtain Bourjos, so they must think that he can contribute in a big way. This suggests they are willing to give Bourjos a shot to be the starting centerfielder before Jay, addressing a position that was certainly not their biggest need heading into the offseason. Jay, a career .293 hitter, only hit .276 last season with seven home runs and merely ten stolen bases. Defensively he did not make many errors, but he also did not get to some balls, and he made some mental mistakes in the postseason. The Cardinals management might have been discouraged with the regression from the 28-year-old Jay.
Bourjos, 26, could bring an element of speed on the basepaths that the Cardinals have not had in many years. If Bourjos and Wong are playing every day, expect the Cards to run more and try to add another dimension to their offense.
It is possible that the Cardinals will choose to keep Jay, and fellow outfielder Shane Robinson, as insurance for any possible injury, especially considering the history of both Bourjos and likely right fielder Allen Craig. But other teams might find more value in Jay or Robinson than the Cardinals currently do, so expect more moves to come. Either way, this trade helps the Cards in the sense that it gives them another option in the outfield, potentially a big upgrade, while they only gave up the struggling Freese who will be 31 next April.
With regard to the undercards, Salas had lost his leverage spot in the Cardinals bullpen long ago, so his loss will likely not have any impact. The Cards also got Grichuk, a 22-year-old with mediocre minor league stats. Cards general manager John Mozeliak stated that he is excited about Grichuk however, and the prospect was drafted in the first round in 2009, ironically one spot ahead of Trout.
Nevertheless, evaluating this trade in the future will most likely come down to the production from Bourjos and the Cardinals will be thrilled if it turns out they have found either a Gold Glove centerfielder or an offensive spark, be it at the top or the bottom of the order.