I hate the moves the St. Louis Cardinals have made this offseason and I might be the only one in the entire state of Missouri who feels this way.
Let me back up, it was obvious that the Cardinals had two glaring weaknesses during the playoffs: Pete Kozma at shortstop and Jon Jay in center field. Neither player can consistently hit at a Major League level. Until the 2013 post season, Jay had always been at least a solid defender, but he was not the Gold Glove-caliber outfielder fashioned by Cardinal fans and pundits. Kozma is not a major league short stop.
I bashed both players on twitter during the NLCS and World Series. The Cardinals addressed these positions by signing short stop Jhonny Peralta from the Tigers and trading third baseman David Freese and Fernando Salas to Angels in exchange for Peter Bourjos Randal Grichuk. On paper, these moves make sense. Peralta can hit, although his 11-year career average of .268 with an on base of .330 does not mesh with his reputation as a consistent ball punisher. Peter Bourjos is one of the best defensive center fielders playing right now, no doubt about it. Bourjos has actually shown flashes at the plate, hitting over .270 in two of his four seasons.
My problem with these moves is that Cardinals didn’t need to make them at all.
Peralta brings a bevy of question marks – can he play shortstop at the Cardinals’ high expectation, how long does that PED stink linger, and does he hit .300 or .240. He’s worth that four-year $52 million contract if he hits .300 and protects everybody in the order.
I like Bourjos but we have too many outfielders already. The whole point of allowing Carlos Beltran to walk was to allow the free space for either Allen Craig or Oscar Taveras to take over in right field. Assuming Jay isn’t up to snuff, I was looking forward to Taveras playing center (the position the star outfielder has played in the minors) and having Craig in right, of course moving Matt Adams into a more permanent slot at first base. The Cardinals can’t sit on Taveras for forever; he’s too good not to play soon.
I was reluctantly on board and then the Cardinals made the perplexing decision to sign 36-year-old second baseman Mark Ellis. The whole point of getting rid of Freese, something the front office had been floating out there even before the playoffs started, was to make room for Kolten Wong to take over at second thus moving Matt Carpenter to his natural position at third base. Wait, if Wong isn’t ready, why get rid of Freese? Carpenter played second base at an all-star level last season. Freese is not a great third baseman, in fact he’s prone to gaffes, but he shows flashes of solid fielding talent.
Now Freese is older than I thought, 30 just one year younger than Peralta. I get confused by his baby-faced Imos commercials and forget that he had that whole baseball sabbatical after high school when he went to Mizzou. The main rationale the Cardinals used for the move was Freese’s poor 2013 where he hit .262 with only nine homers and 60 RBIs.
Why is that season not the outlier? Freese hit .290 or better every other season, including .293, 79 RBI, and 147 hits in 2012. Freese’s problem earlier in his career was injuries. He played in 144 games in 2012 and just under that, 138, in 2013.
Let’s be honest, I’m not judging David Freese on statistics. My love for Freese is based on performing the greatest baseball feat I have ever seen. His homer to win game six of the World Series in 2011 trumps even the great mad dash by Enos Slaughter, the go “crazy folks” homer by Ozzie, Albert’s three homer game in 2011, Albert’s home run to beat the Astros in game six in 2005, Jim Edmonds homer to beat the Astros in 2004, Yadi’s homerun to beat the Mets in 2006, or Wainwright’s strikeout of Beltran to end the 2006 NLCS. Simply, it’s the greatest singular moment in franchise history, a franchise that has a wealth of great moments.
On top of that, Freese is hometown boy. He grew up just 15 miles from me just down Manchester Road in West County. On top of that, he always seemed to be a good teammate, a humble guy. He deserved a chance to stick with the Redbirds at least one more season.
If the Cardinals try to sell me on defense as the primary motivation behind these moves, I would scuff angrily. Peralta is an average defender at best, much closer to the bottom of the heap than the top. The Cardinals have been living in a myth that they are still the stalwart franchise, the shining example of defensive excellence of years past. Yadi, Wainwright, and Matt Carpenter were the only above average fielders the Cardinals deployed last season. Adams and Matt Holliday were well below average.
You want to tell me it’s about money? We just gave Peralta a huge sum. Yadi and Waino have nice fat contracts. Holliday makes a substantial amount of money. Freese is not a free agent until 2016.
Really, I’m mostly onboard with signing Peralta, but there was no reason the Cardinals had to do that and trade Freese. Even if the Cardinals would have stood pat, I think Matt Carpenter can play major league shortstop, at least as well as Peralta.