Cardinals decide to move forward minus David Freese

News-DemocratNovember 23, 2013 

— Third baseman David Freese, the St. Louis Cardinals' postseason hero in 2011, was traded to the Los Angeles Angels on Friday for slick-fielding center fielder Peter Bourjos.

Reliever Fernando Salas also went to the Angels, who sent minor-league outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals.

Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said the trade addresses two needs: speed and defense.

"When you think back to earlier in the year when we talked about what we needed to do to improve this club moving forward, we keyed on a couple of things," Mozeliak said at Busch Stadium. "We keyed on shortstop and we talked about center field, adding some speed.

"What really drove this decision was being able to identify a player that could do just that for us in the outfield. Peter Bourjos is a unique skill set. He's probably one of the faster guys in the league. He can steal bases. (He) didn't get a lot of opportunities in Anaheim. But different league, different place."

After a strong 2012 season in which he batted .293 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs in 144 games, the 30-year-old Freese took a step back this year when he batted a career-low .262 with just nine homers and 60 RBIs in 138 games.

Freese injured his back in spring training, but Mozeliak said he didn't believe Freese was fighting physical ailments during the season. Instead, suggested that expectations for Freese might have been set unreasonably high following 2011.

Freese, a graduate of Lafayette High in St. Louis, led the Cardinals to the World Series championship that fall.

He batted .545 (12-for-25) with three doubles, three home runs and nine RBIs in the National League Championship Series against Milwaukee, then batted .348 (8-for-23) with three doubles, one homer and seven RBIs in the World Series against Texas.

Freese's 11th-inning homer in Game 6 at Busch Stadium gave the Cardinals a memorable 10-9 victory, and he had two more RBIs in their 6-2 win in Game 7.

Freese was the Most Valuable Player of both the NLCS and the World Series and became known on the national stage, even making an appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno.

"(When) you think back to '11, our memory of David gets captured in a four-week period when he was just one of the hottest hitters on earth," Mozeliak said. "So our expectations rose. What we wanted to keep seeing and believed we could see, at some point it's hard to live up to those expectations.

"David growing up in St. Louis, this could not have been the easiest place for him to play, given those circumstances. Even though he loved being here and loved being a Cardinal ... I do think he may be looking forward to a fresh start. This was not an easy year for him."

Freese will be reunited with former Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who left St. Louis after the 2011 season to sign with the Angels. Freese will replace Alberto Callaspo as Los Angeles' primary third baseman. The Angels used seven different players at third base last season.

The 26-year-old Bourjos (pronounced BORE-jus) is a right-handed hitter who is known for his defensive prowess and speed. He batted .274 with three homers and 12 RBIs in 55 games last season with the Angels and is a career .251 hitter in 354 games.

He became expendable because of a glut of outfielders: Josh Hamilton, Mike Trout, J.B. Shuck, Kole Calhoun and Collin Cowgill.

"I heard some (trade) rumors (Thursday) and it was a little uneasy because I didn't know where I was going," Bourjos said from his home in Arizona. "I know there's a lot of rumors out there, but getting the call (Friday) and knowing I was coming over to that organization, I'm so excited."

Bourjos missed 38 games early in the season with a strained left hamstring. On June 29, he was hit by a pitch from Houston's Jordan Lyles and suffered a broken right wrist. Bourjos returned Aug. 16, but said he was unable to play without pain. He was shut down after Sept. 3.

"When I came back, I felt like I had to cheat to catch up to anything," Bourjos said. "I was in pain when I checked my swing. Even when I made contact, it didn't feel right. From the time before I got hurt to the time when I came back and tried to play with it wasn't even close."

The wrist finally is close to 100 percent.

"I had a CT scan (Thursday) and everything looked good," Bourjos said. "Hopefully, in the next couple of weeks, I'll start swinging the bat. But from where I was at the end of the season to where I'm at now, it's night and day."

Bourjos' best season came in 2011 when he batted .271 with 26 doubles, 11 triples, 12 homers, 43 RBIs and 22 stolen bases in 147 games. He has made just seven errors in over 2,600 innings, and he adds a much-needed element of speed to the Cardinals, who ranked last in the NL with 45 stolen bases. Detroit had the fewest stolen bases in the American League with 35.

"I think it's all about creating opportunities to get on base and having quality at-bats," Bourjos said. "If I can do that consistently, I think I'll be able to steal some bases."

Bourjos' dad was a scout for the Toronto Blue Jays, so Bourjos grew up a fan of the Blue Jays. He has a career on-base percentage of just .306, so he doesn't profile as a player who would high in the order.

"I just want to come help the team win in any capacity --whether I'm playing every day or not every day, whether I'm coming in to pinch-run, coming in to get bunts down, whatever it may be," Bourjos said. "I just want to help the team win and get back to the World Series."

Mozeliak said the trade means Matt Carpenter will shift to his natural position, third base, and rookie Kolten Wong will play second. It also means reduced playing time for Jon Jay.

"We still value him; we still think he's an important member of this club," Mozeliak said of Jay. "But when you look at places we could improve on, we identified a couple of areas. When you look at our outfield, perhaps with an Allen Craig in right and a Matt Holliday in left, somebody like a Peter Bourjos certainly will help that.

"I think it does improve the club defensively. But I also wouldn't diminish what it might do for us offensively. Adding that speed element, we could benefit from as well."

Mozeliak also said Bourjos' presence will relieve pressure from top prospect Oscar Taveras.

"When you look at what this means for Oscar, it's still intriguing to see him on our club in some way," Mozeliak said. "But clearly, it takes a lot of pressure off him at center field. Our expectations are for him to have a healthy spring training and then sort of determine what makes the most sense."

The Cardinals remain on the lookout for a shortstop, with several on their radar heading into the winter meetings Dec. 9-12 in Orlando, Fla.

"We're looking at everything --still are," Mozeliak said. "I don't feel we're close to anything at this point, but our job is to exhaust all the markets and that's what we'll do."

Salas had 24 saves and a 2.28 ERA in 2011 after Ryan Franklin failed miserably in the closer's role. But Salas slumped to 1-4 with a 4.30 ERA in 65 games last season, then was slowed by shoulder inflammation this year when he was 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in just 27 games.

Grichuk, 22, batted .256 with 27 doubles, eight triples, 22 home runs and 64 RBIs this season at Class AA Arkansas of the Texas League. A right-handed hitter, Grichuk was the Angels' first-round pick in the 2009 draft (24th overall).

Contact reporter David Wilhelm at dwilhelm@bnd.com or 239-2665.

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