As you know, the Cardinals acquired center fielder Peter Bourjos and corner-outfield prospect Randal Grichuk from the Angels in exchange for third baseman David Freese and spare-part reliever Fernando Salas.
Let's break it down:
Obviously, Cardinals' management soured on Freese, who declined offensively and defensively in 2013. GM John Mozeliak opted to bail out rather than (A) offer a contract that would put them on the hook to pay Freese between $4 million and $4.5 million next season, or (B) let Freese walk as a free agent and get nothing in return. They had until Dec. 2 to make that decision. And they made it.
WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2014
The Cardinals are prepared to give the primary 2B job to rookie Kolten Wong, and will shift Matt Carpenter back to his natural position, 3B. In Bourjos, the Cardinals have a potential starter in CF — or, at the very least, a fourth outfielder that will play a lot of baseball, sharing time with prospect and LH-hitting Oscar Taveras, and veteran LH-hitting CF Jon Jay. Bourjos can play any spot in the outfield. There's better balance; in their center field and right field alignments, the Cards now have two LH outfield bats in Taveras and Jay, and RH bats in Allen Craig, Bourjos and Shane Robinson. They can go with a platoon in CF if so inclined.
In obtaining Bourjos, the Cardinals addressed a variety of needs. They reinforced their outfield depth, and added a RH bat to the mix. They upgraded their outfield defense. They improved their team speed and athleticism. Bourjos runs very well, hits triples, and can steal bases.
Let's talk defense. Jay ranked 32nd among MLB center fielders with minus 10 defensive runs saved in 2013. The Cardinals aren't sure if Taveras can handle center field on a full-time basis. Freese was among the poorest 3B in the majors last season, ranking 33rd at the position with minus 14 defensive runs saved.
Bourjos has been outstanding in center. His range is a major plus considering the limited mobility of Matt Holliday in LF, and Allen Craig in RF.
Here's an excerpt of Dave Cameron's trade analysis at FanGraphs:
"Since 2010, here are the top 5 center fielders in UZR/150 among players who have spent at least 2,000 innings in center field:
Peter Bourjos, +20.2
Carlos Gomez, +18.2
Jacoby Ellsbury, +13.7
Michael Bourn, +9.9
Denard Span, +9.5
Keep that in mind, because in '13 the Cardinals deployed one of the worst outfields in the majors, with the three positions combining for minus 27 runs saved. (Which means, basically, that they cost their pitchers 27 runs with poor fielding.)
Wong is a slick fielder. Carpenter did a fine job at 2B last season, but he's a natural third baseman and has been a plus defender when used at 3B during his two seasons in St. Louis. The addition of Bourjos and the emergence of Wong adds speed and stealing ability to the lineup. The Cardinals also saved money in parting with Freese; that, could be helpful in their ongoing shortstop search. And they've also freshened up by getting younger. Freese will be in his age 31 season in 2014. Wong is 23. Bourjos will be 27 next season.
One other benefit: this eases the pressure to play Taveras right away. If he would benefit by beginning the 2014 season at Class AAA Memphis, the Cardinals have it covered in the outfield.
This trade reaffirms Mozeliak's obvious belief that Wong is ready for the primary role at 2B. The optimism is justified; independent talent evaluators say Wong has all of the tools to be a very good MLB player. Suppose Wong isn't quite ready for a full-time load in 2014? And despite his loss of power and overall deterioration, Freese still had the team's best combined onbase-slugging percentage (.811) against LH pitching last season. Wong will be challenged to hit LH pitching early in his career, and though he bats right, Bourjos has not distinguished himself against LH pitching. And then there's this: suppose Freese bounces back strong in Anaheim? After all, Freese hit 20 homers, had an .839 OPS, a 129 OPS+ and a 4.0 WAR in 2012. And Bourjos will be coming back from a wrist injury that required surgery. He appeared in only 55 games last season but is said to be ready to go.
A CLOSER LOOK AT BOURJOS:
I wrote this yesterday when the word got out that the Cardinals were looking for outfield help in talking to the Angels. I've included a few new details and observations ...
Bourjos bats righthanded, can run like a cheetah, and he covers lots of acreage in center field. That profile fits the Cardinals' need as they look to expand their CF options in 2014 and beyond. Bourjos has 41 steals in 54 attempts during his career, with a single-season high of 22 steals in 2011. Bourjos had an impressive 4.1 fWAR in 2011, meaning that he was four wins better than a replacement-level player in center.
Bourjos was ranked fifth among MLB center fielders in defensive runs saved in 2011, and ranked eighth in 2012. (He didn't play enough in CF last year to qualify for a ranking.)
Bourjos is a compelling talent that has fulfilled his potential only once in his career, slugging .438, stealing 22 bases, ranking as the fifth-best defensive center fielder and posting a good OPS+ of 116 in 2011. (An OPS+ of 100 is considered average.) Plus Bourjos is still reasonably cheap; this is his first year of arbitration eligibility. He made $512,000 in 2013.
The downside? In 1,136 MLB plate appearances Bourjos batted .251 with a .306 onbase percentage and a .398 slugging percentage and has an OPS+ of 98. Which means he's been a slightly below -average big-league hitter. And Bourjos hasn't done much against lefthanded pitching, putting together a slash line of .256 / .301 / .405 in 301 plate appearances vs. lefts. And he's also coming off the wrist surgery.
Still, this looks like a classic “change of scenery” candidate. Bourjos was overhyped. He was supposed to be Mike Trout, even before anyone knew Mike Trout. And he never came close to becoming Mike Trout. When the actual Mike Trout showed up to become the best damned outfielder on this or any other planet, he made Bourjos look bad by comparison. But even in a 2013 season that was limited to 55 games, Bourjos was good for 1.1 WAR; Jay was worth only 1.9 WAR despite playing 100 more games. And as recently as 2011, Bourjos was a four-win player. That's enticing, given that Bourjos is still three years away from his age 30 season.
Freese has been a better overall hitter in the majors, with a career OPS+ of 115 compared to Bourjos' 98. But you have to factor in the age difference, the speed, the defense, and the area of need.
WHO IS RANDAL GRICHUK?
I have to say, I thought a straight-up Bourjos for Freese deal would have made sense for both teams. The Angels didn't have a third baseman, and the Cardinals needed protection in center field. But Mozeliak did even better in coaxing the Angels to part with Grichuk, a former No. 1 draft pick. Grichuk was taken 24th overall by the Angels in the 2009 draft, one pick ahead of Trout. Grichuk, only 22, was ranked as the Angels' No. 2 prospect by MLB.com.
In the minors, Grichuk has been a free swinger with a high strikeout total, and he doesn't draw many walks. So plate discipline is a challenge. But what he has is raw power. Grichuk hit 22 homers with 27 doubles in 500 at-bats in Class AA last season. He had an overall .474 slugging percentage, but pounded LH pitching for a .524 SLG.
Here is a comprehensive analysis of Grichuk from one who knows, the respected John Sickels.
Sickels' summation: "Given his age, work ethic, and the fact that the Cardinals emphasize strike zone judgment, I'd have to assume that working on his approach at the plate will be a primary goal in 2014. Grichuk doesn't have to turn into a walk machine, but even slight improvements with his strike zone judgment will go a long way, getting him better pitches to hit and express his power against. He should begin '14 in Triple-A."
WHY DIDN'T THE CARDINALS PUSH FOR A SHORTSTOP?
The Cards were interested in Angels SS Erick Aybar, but the Angels didn't have a shortstop to replace him. Because of that, I'm told that the Angels were asking for one of the Cardinals' young starting pitchers in return, with a particular interest in Shelby Miller. If that's true ... Aybar is pretty good, but you don't trade Miller for him. I suppose it's possible that the teams could revisit the Aybar talks later.
Here's a West Coast view from Los Angeles Times baseball writer Bill Shaikin: "The completion of a trade with the Cardinals, who need a shortstop, apparently means that St. Louis is not interested in trading one of its young arms for Aybar. So far, at least (the Angels) have not generated interest among teams willing to trade young starters."
The hunt for a shortstop continues ... Also, I wonder about this: if the Cards are committed to Bourjos in center and Taveras in right, that means Craig plays first base ... so will Matt Adams be in play as a trade chip?
Mozeliak did a good job here. It's as simple as that. He received plus value and added youth, speed and defense _ and saved payroll _ in moving an expandable player in Freese.
Feel free to disagree.
INSTANT TWITTER REACTION:
Aaron Gleeman, Hardball Talk, on NBC Sports: "I've always been a big Peter Bourjos bobo, so I think the Cardinals did pretty well in this deal."
Angels broadcaster Victor Rojas: "When healthy, tough to find a better defensive CF than Peter Bourjos. A great guy, hard-worker & consummate pro."
Bill Plunkett Orange County Register, evoked Jim Edmonds: "Last time the Angels traded "extra" OF to Cardinals he won 6 consec Gold Gloves, went to 3 All Star Games and 2 World Series."
Shaikin, Los Angeles Times: "On a limited budget, Angels add $4 million to payroll & use 2 trade chips w/o getting starting pitcher. Still early in winter, but interesting."
Jeff Fletcher, Orange County Register: "Interesting how a lot of Angels fans believe Peter Bourjos big year in 2011 is repeatable but that David Freese's big year in '12 isn't."
More Fletcher: "For stlcards fans, Bourjos said a few weeks ago his wrist felt great and he would be hitting soon. Surgery (was) in Sept."
Fran Charles, MLB Network: "Cardinals upgrade yet again trading for one of the best CF in Bourjos. Freese will always be remembered in STL for 2011 postseason."
Buster Olney, ESPN: "A lot of folks in the industry LOVE the Bourjos-Freese trade for the Cardinals."
Thanks for reading...