Dealt to Angels for Bourjos, Freese gets 'fresh start'
Halos acquire clutch hitter, pitcher Salas, send outfielder, prospect Grichuk to Cards
ANAHEIM -- Shortly after news broke that the Angels traded Peter Bourjos to the Cardinals for David Freese, Albert Pujols shot a welcoming text message to the former teammate he would soon reunite with.
Freese's response: Remember what we did last time we played with each other? Let's go try to do that again.
What Freese and Pujols did was star on the Cardinals team that beat the Rangers -- with Josh Hamilton and C.J. Wilson, no less -- to win it all in 2011.
Freese was a World Series hero then, following an epic performance with a 2012 season in which he batted .293, hit 20 homers, drove in 79 runs and established himself as one of the best up-and-coming third basemen in baseball. Then his bat went south, his defense took a hit, and now he'll look to bounce back on an Angels team that needs help at third base and has missed the playoffs four straight years.
"It was kind of a frustrating year," Freese said, "but I learned a lot, and to be honest, I have a huge chip on my shoulder."
On Friday morning, the Angels and Cardinals finally consummated a deal they've been talking about all month; one in which both clubs essentially traded from positions of depth to shore up positions of need.
The Cardinals got outfield depth by acquiring a center fielder in Bourjos and a prospect in Randal Grichuk, who was previously ranked fourth in the Angels' system by MLB.com and recently added to the 40-man roster. Now they can move Matt Carpenter to third base and create some room for rookie second baseman Kolten Wong.
The Angels addressed their uncertainty at third base, added an extra bullpen arm in 28-year-old right-hander Fernando Salas and cleared up their outfield, with Mike Trout (center field) and Hamilton (left field) sliding into positions they're more comfortable with while opening up right field for the upstart Kole Calhoun.
In the deal, the Halos took on about an extra $4 million in salary commitments.
They're hoping Freese can make that worth their while.
"David Freese has always hit," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "What he does is provide you on-base ability, he provides you power. David has that right-center-field power swing that really suits our ballpark really well. The easiest way to describe what he does is he knows how to drive in the important runs. That's something that really fits in our lineup, and obviously third base for us was a bit of a question mark as we head into the winter months and Spring Training. This provides what we think is a more-than-acceptable solution."
Bourjos is already among the best defensive center fielders in baseball, can run with the best of them and still has plenty of upside at the plate -- but the Angels ultimately saw him as their most expendable piece.
The 26-year-old had a promising 2011 season, batting .271 with 12 homers, 11 triples and 22 steals. But in 2012, he sat for most of the second half while Trout, Mark Trumbo and Torii Hunter made up the Angels' outfield. And in 2013, injuries derailed Bourjos.
He batted .313 before missing six weeks with a strained left hamstring. Bourjos was plunked on the right wrist on June 29 and missed another month and a half. He returned in mid-August and wasn't the same, batting .109 over a pain-stricken 15-game stretch. And on Sept. 7, he finally relented to season-ending surgery.
Bourjos has been in trade rumors incessantly for the last three years -- it's the price you pay for playing Trout's position -- and he figured this would be the winter he'd finally have a new home.
"I thought maybe that this was probably the best chance that I got traded, just because the last couple of years my name has been out there so much and it hadn't happened," Bourjos said on a conference call with Cardinals reporters. "With Calhoun coming up and playing extremely well and J.B. Shuck and a lot of young outfielders playing extremely well, I figured there would be a pretty good chance I would get traded."
Based on projections by MLBTradeRumors.com, Bourjos is slated to make $1.1 million as a first-year arbitration-eligible player, while Freese and Salas project for $4.4 million and $700,000, respectively. Freese doesn't hit free agency until after the 2015 season; Salas comes with three years of club control.
The Angels are still in desperate need of pitching -- at least two starters and one reliever -- and they have just over $10 million to spend before reaching the luxury-tax threshold of $189 million.
They've targeted relievers Joe Smith, J.P. Howell and Edward Mujica, have moved on to other free-agent starters after Jason Vargas signed with the Royals and are still willing to trade offense for cost-controlled starting pitching, with second baseman Howie Kendrick by far the most likely to be dealt.
But their in-house options at third base -- Luis Jimenez, Chris Nelson, Andrew Romine and Grant Green -- were almost as questionable as the names available in a thin free-agent class, and Bourjos alone was not valued enough to bring back quality pitching in a trade.
The Angels' best bet to maximize Bourjos' remaining value, they believed, was to take a chance on a reclamation of their own.
Freese suffered a back strain in Spring Training this past March, struggled mightily in April and never fully got right. His slash line dropped to .262/.340/.381, he hit only nine home runs, his defensive metrics dropped precipitously and he batted .179 (10-for-56) in a postseason stage he owned just two seasons ago.
Freese said he now feels "100 percent" and even started working out almost a month earlier than usual, eager to reclaim the promise he showed the last time he teamed with Pujols.
"You can call this a fresh start," Freese said. "You just close the chapter and move on. Going out to Anaheim, joining that crew, it's going to be exciting. I don't see this as something I'm frustrated with, getting traded. I'm truly excited."
Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and "The Show", and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.