clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Should the Cardinals pursue David Freese?

New, 27 comments

The sentimental angle of a reunion of the World Series hero and his hometown team is obvious, but is there also an on-field argument for a David Freese return to St. Louis?

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

What is there to say or write about David Freese that has not already been said or written? I guess I'll try: Did you know that David Freese has the third-highest single-game Win Probability Added in Major League Baseball history among batters whose team went on to win the World Series that season? Thanks, Play Index!

The other two are Paul Molitor, on May 13, 1993 for the Toronto Blue Jays, and Albert Pujolson April 16, 2006 for the St. Louis Cardinals. David Freese had his WPA peak during Game 6 of the 2011 World Series.

That's my best attempt at a new Freese factoid. I doubt I'm informing many people of Freese's 2011 heroics for the first time. You know the story. You know the past.

But David Freese is not merely a historic artifact. Freese, 32, remains a living, breathing Major League Baseball player. And as crazy as it seems, more time has passed since Freese was traded along with Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk than had passed since Freese's Game 6 heroics when Freese was traded.

In the last two seasons, for better or worse, David Freese's career stabilized. In the 2012 afterglow of his ascension into immortality, Freese was an All-Star worth 3.8 wins above replacement per both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. He posted a career-high 132 wRC+ and was a slightly above average fielder. In 2013, Freese was sub-replacement level: his offense was below average for a third baseman and his defense was the 5th-worst among MLB third basemen this decade.

But in 2014 and 2015, Freese was a productive, if not spectacular, MLB third baseman. He posted wRC+ totals of 106 and 110 and exhibited defense a hair above league average. While the headliners of this offseason were premium starting pitchers and young outfielders, David Freese appeared to be the best of a mediocre third base crop.

Unfortunately for Freese, while there has been a dearth of third base options on the open market, this also means a relative lack of potential suitors. While in December, Jon Heyman reported that the Angels were in talks to re-sign Freese, the Angels traded for Yunel Escobar of the Washington Nationals. The Chicago White Sox were seemingly a candidate for Freese, but they instead traded for Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds, who themselves appear content to continue forward with Eugenio Suarez at the hot corner.

The longer his free agency, which has largely been stagnant, continues, the less likely it is that David Freese will find an opportunity to step in and immediately become a starter. While at 32, without a track record of being better than a pretty good MLB player, Freese is unlikely to garner a long-term deal, he conceivably has some window to receive a two or three year deal. He may have to wait a year, but he isn't going to get that by sitting out.

And this is where the Cardinals come into play. Although the Cardinals have one of the best half-dozen or so third basemen in baseball already in Matt Carpenter, Freese would add a layer of depth that the Cardinals presently do not have. As it stands, #2 and #3 on the third base depth chart for the Cardinals are Jedd Gyorko and Greg Garcia, who are also #2 and #3 at second base.

I've already expressed my desire to see Gyorko as a platoon partner for Kolten Wong. While I think Matt Carpenter is too good on his weak platoon side to put in a rigid platoon (107 wRC+ against lefties in 2015, 115 wRC+ against lefties in his career), David Freese could be an appetizing option to occasionally relieve Carpenter. Freese has a career 131 wRC+ against southpaws and while his 2015 wRC+ was a somewhat pedestrian 104, he posted a very impressive 153 in 2014.

In addition to spelling Matt Carpenter, who it is easy to forget went through an abysmal cold streak in June of 2015, Freese can give the Cardinals increased flexibility with regards to first base. If Stephen Piscotty starts 2016 in right field, as he is currently listed by the Cardinals to do, the team will presumably go with one of two left-handed bats, Brandon Moss or Matt Adams, as the predominant first baseman. Adams is a very poor hitter against lefties, and Moss has been inconsistent against them.

A potentially interesting option at first base, not every day but on occasion, is Matt Carpenter. Although he has started only twice at first base since 2013, his defense at third base (and second base, for that matter) has been in decline. A couple years ago, his defensive decline would be very worrying, but the version of Carpenter we saw at the plate in 2015 has the bat to hang at first if that does happen. Although his defense at first base is yet to be seen, unlike rumored experimentation with Matt Holliday, Carpenter's transition to first base would theoretically be a natural one from third.

Signing Freese, memories of postseasons past aside, would still not be a flashy signing. If Jason Heyward or David Price would be the equivalent of dinner at an expensive restaurant, David Freese is the dollar menu at Taco Bell. But that's not necessarily a bad thing. It won't likely be the greatest meal of your life, but at little investment, it can be worth the minimal trouble.

Of course, nostalgia would be a major part of the allure of David Freese to St. Louis. And as a living, breathing (hyperventilating at moments, but still technically breathing) Cardinals fan in 2011, I fully understand that. But even putting aside the excitement that the acquisition would bring in the immediate term, a short deal for a reasonable salary could make sense for both parties.