David Freese will be 30 in 2013, and a free agent in 2016. That's the most important part of the news that the St. Louis Cardinals signed him to a one-year deal worth $3 million on Friday, and it's the most important fact of his major league career: David Freese started late, and he's going to pay for it.
For Freese, who celebrates his first year significantly over the league minimum two seasons after his World Series heroics, it's a combination of a late start—he played his first minor league season at 23—and the injury problems that delayed his big league arrival. The result is a trip through free agency that's going to come after most position players have begun their decline phase, which could make for some awkward negotiations.
For the Cardinals, it's just another conspicuously cheap and old young hitter. Allen Craig will be eligible for free agency the year after Freese; Matt Carpenter, last year's rookie salve to all kinds of veteran injuries, will be 27 next year. By luck or design, some of their most important homegrown talent has lingered in the minors until just before their peak seasons.
This next crop, unfortunately, might not be so cooperative. Oscar Taveras is 21; Kolten Wong and Shelby Miller are 22. Matt Adams, who had to come in briefly as Matt Carpenter's understudy, is somehow still ambulatory at 24.