Cardinals strike a deal with Angels

The St. Louis Cardinals announced today that they have traded third baseman David Freese and relief pitcher Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in exchange for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk.

The immediate effect of the deal is that it opens up third base for Matt Carpenter and, as a result, second base for prospect Kolten Wong. It also shores up their defense in center field with the addition of Bourjos.

Considering that Freese and Salas were widely thought to be non-tender candidates, this trade is believed to be quite the coup for Cardinals’ General Manager John Mozeliak.

David Freese was the hero of the 2011 World Series and a St. Louis native, so his connection to the area made him a hard player to trade. Logically though it made sense. Freese is 30 years old and coming off his worst season in a Cardinals’ uniform and also stands to get a substaintial raise in arbitration. Because of that, the odds of him returning to the Cardinals in 2014 were slim. The question that Mozeliak had to ask himself was whether we’d get the 2012 Freese (.293, 20 HR) or 2013 Freese (.262, 9 HR) going forward.

Fernando Salas, on the other hand, is a pitcher that I hold in fairly high regard. His stats from 2013 don’t look pretty, but he was misused by Matheny in a fireman role. Salas’ pitching style makes him a fly ball pitcher. That’s not the kind of player you want coming in during high pressure situations where you need a ground ball. But Salas still made it work. During the first half of the season, the only reliever who was better than him was Edward Mujica.

For the Cardinals, they get most of the guaranteed success out of the pot in the defense of Peter Bourjos. Bourjos, 26, is coming off a season abbreviated by injury. Through 55 games in 2013, Bourjos hit .275 when all was said and done. But he was hitting .333/.392/.452 with 3 home runs when he went on the DL with a broken wrist at the end of June. He hit just .109 after returning in mid-August.

But defense is the name of Bourjos’ game that really makes him worth playing. Since 2010, when he made his debut, he has the highest defensive WAR per inning, regardless of position. That should certainly be a step up from Jon Jay, who struggled defensively this season after a breakout year in 2012.

With Bourjos being a right-handed outfielder, he may work in time as a platoon partner for the left-handed Jay. Then again, Bourjos could take the starting job.

They also acquired Double-A outfielder Randal Grichuk, who should be known as the guy taken one pick ahead of Mike Trout (the Angels had back-to-back picks). Grichuk, 21, hit .256 with 22 HR last season in Double-A. His average took a dip in 2013 after he hit .298 with 18 HR in High A ball in 2012.

I’ve seen Grichuk as high as second on a list of the Angels’ top prospects as he profiles as a right fielder. Though in the Cardinals’ organization, he looks to be, at best, near the bottom of the top-10 list. He also has shown some speed in the lower levels of the minors, leading some to suggest that he could be a future 20/20 guy in the majors.

With the addition of Grichuk to an already stout class of high level minor league outfielders than includes Oscar Taveras, Stephen Piscotty, Mike O’Neill, James Ramsey, Thomas Pham, and Charlie Tilson (and those are just the ones off the top of my head), playing time in Memphis will be scarce. Because of that glut of outfielders, I expect another trade will be coming. Maybe for that coveted shortstop.

While both teams are taking on risk in this trade that could swing the end result of who won it, it’s pretty obvious that on Day Zero, the Cardinals took the advantage. If nothing else, they added the best defensive outfielder in baseball for a couple of guys who may have been free agents in a couple weeks. The deal also lets them put Kolten Wong at second base, a position where he could challenge for a gold glove.

Once again John Mozeliak pulls a rabbit out of his hat. He better not do that too often, lest we come to expect it.

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