David Freese became a hero among St. Louis Cardinals fans for his performance during the team’s run to the World Series in 2011. He hit .545/.600/1.091 during the League Championship series and then .348/.464/.696 during the World Series. 11 of his 20 hits between those two rounds went for extra bases, including 4 home runs. Instantly he went from little known to one of the team’s rising stars.
He’d follow things up with a career year in 2012, his first as the team’s full time starter at third base. He hit .293/.372/.467 in 567 PA, adding 20 HR and 25 2B. He’d make his first All Star Game.
This season, however, things have come crashing back to reality for the 30 year old. He’s slipped to a .265/.343/.380 line in 399 PA. His power has eluded him, as he has just 6 HR. Now, with the team’s recent promotion of top prospect Kolten Wong, Freese finds himself playing for his job over the season’s final six weeks or else he may find himself on the trading block this coming winter. The Cardinals could look to move Freese this winter and take advantage of what is expected to be a weak market for third baseman.
To his credit, Wong did everything asked of him to earn his callup to the Major Leagues. The former 1st Round pick (2011 Draft, 22nd overall) hit .301/.365/.446 in just over 1,200 plate appearances during his minor league career, finding success at all three levels he’d appear at. Defensively he was sound and his arrival in St. Louis was merely a matter of when, not if.
The team knew that Wong’s arrival would ultimately necessitate some restructuring in the infield. A shortstop through college, Wong has spent the entirety of his minor league career manning second base and likely will slide into the position on a semi-permanent basis moving forward. His arrival pushes Matt Carpenter from the role – a role he’s unexpectedly done well with – and moves Carpenter back to his natural position of third base. Freese suddenly is the odd man out.
Freese is earning $3.15 Million this season and remains under team control for three more years before he’ll be eligible for free agency. Even with a down year at the plate, however, he’s likely facing a bump in salary through arbitration this winter. For the Cardinals, the thought of trading Freese is more about finding a player that better suits their needs while taking advantage of what could be a limited market than it is about dumping his salary. For a team that could look to acquire him, three years of team control should be a very appealing piece of the equation. St. Louis could easily hold onto him, but they could also reap the benefits of their perceived roster crunch by moving him in order to address a need.
Michael Young, Juan Uribe, and Mark Reynolds highlight was truly amounts to a limited free agent class at third base. Freese (and potentially San Diego’s Chase Headley, if he’s also made available) could end up drawing considerable interest on the open market if the Cardinals do look to move him this winter.