The Cardinals and Angels swapped arbitration-eligible veterans coming off mediocre, injury-tinged seasons in a trade that sends center fielder Peter Bourjos to St. Louis and third baseman David Freese to Los Angeles.
The two parties kicked in an extra player each to make it a two-for-two swap, with the Cardinals acquiring Double-A right fielder Randal Grichuk and Angels receiving 28-year-old reliever Fernando Salas, who has closing experience in the majors and solid peripherals at Triple-A, including a 1.20 WHIP and 2.7 SO/BB ratio in 133 appearances.
Bourjos continues to be an elite defender, but in 943 plate appearances with the Angels since 2011, he's batted .262/.321/.401 (104 OPS+) with fewer stolen bases (31) than his raw speed would suggest possible. Freese, despite his 2011 World Series heroics, has a reputation for being injury-prone and a defensive liability, and now he's coming off his worst big league season at age 30, in which he hit .262/.340/.381 (101 OPS+) with nine home runs in 138 games.
Trading Freese allows the Cardinals to shift Matt Carpenter to his natural position of third base, while installing No. 3 prospect Kolten Wong at second base.
Randal Grichuk, rf
Age: 22. Bats: R.
Career Transactions: Selected by Angels in first round (24th overall) of 2009 draft; signed June 20, 2009.
Though he's difficult to walk, Grichuk also is fairly difficult to strike out for a hitter with his kind of power. He has at least major league-average juice, but with the caveat that he's coming off successive seasons with on-base percentages at .335 in the California League and .306 at Double-A. Arkansas' pitcher-friendly ballpark cut significantly into Grichuk's power output in 2013 (as it had Mike Trout's in 2011 and Mark Trumbo's in 2009), and he hit a healthier .274/.318/.529 with 16 home runs in 66 road games. Even with the home-park handicap, Grichuk managed to bash 22 homers and lead the Texas League in extra-base hits (57) and runs scored (89). If he hits for enough average, his other tools profile in right field.
Peter Bourjos, cf
Age: 26. Bats: R.
Remaining commitment: First-time arbitration-eligible in 2014 ($512,500 salary in 2013).
Assuming he makes a full recovery from wrist surgery he had in 2013, Bourjos will provide a different dimension to the Cardinals as a rangy center fielder who brings an element of speed to a club that stole more bases than only the lead-footed Tigers this season. Given the strength of the lineup around him, he can continue his slashing ways at the plate, eschewing walks for line-drive contact and hustle extra-bases hits. Though Bourjos is entering his physical prime, he hasn't really hit a lick the past two seasons, so St. Louis may wind up with a bottom-of-the-order hitter, albeit one with range and speed that will play for a contender. For those reasons, he probably will be a preferable option to holdovers Jon Jay and Shane Robinson.
David Freese, 3b
Age: 30. Bats: R.
Remaining commitment: Second-year arbitration-eligible for 2014 ($3.15 million salary in 2013).
Fernando Salas, rhp
Remaining commitment: First-year arbitration-eligible for 2014 ($512,000 salary in 2013).
The Angels take two arbitration decisions off the Cardinals' plate by taking on first-year eligible Salas and second-year eligible Freese. It's easy to see why Los Angeles sought these players, however. Angels third basemen in 2013 combined to hit .246/.304/.333 for a .637 OPS that was nearly 100 points lower than the major league average of .735. Even at his worst, Freese represents an upgrade on Luis Jimenez or Chris Nelson.
Los Angeles seemingly hasn't developed a quality reliever since Francisco Rodriguez in 2002, and after finishing bottom six in the majors in bullpen ERA (4.12), SO/BB ratio (2.15) and WHIP (1.35) in 2013, they're once again accepting applications. In that light, Salas, who has one minor league option remaining for 2014, becomes attractive, just like the other relievers the Angels have acquired via trade the past two seasons, such as Ernesto Frieri and Dane de la Rosa.