When the Cardinals traded Jim Edmonds to the Padres in exchange for David Freese, the deal resulted in mixed feelings for Cardinals fans everywhere. Jimmy Baseball had been a part of the core of some of the most successful teams in Cardinals history, and to see him go for a prospect who at the age of 24 still hadn’t played in AA ball resulted in some criticism of newly hired general manager John Mozeliak. Mozeliak and other members of the front office assured that Freese was a solid prospect and not just part of a salary dump. Freese was told that he would have the opportunity to win the third base job at AAA the following spring, which was two levels above what he had played the previous year.
The nearby Lafayette High School grad impressed in his first year in the organization, not only just winning the third base job at AAA Memphis but also showing a live bat and a plus glove. Freese put up a .306/.361/.550 line for a .910 ops to go along with 26 home runs, 83 runs, and 91 RBI’s. The following spring, Freese appeared to be on the inside track for the big league job when Troy Glaus had shoulder surgery. Freese, however, suffered an ankle injury in a car accident that left him hobbled. He had to have surgery to repair the ankle, and as soon as he healed he was sent to AAA Memphis to rehab. He had a fine half season Memphis, putting up a .300/.353/.484 line. Freese also added 10 homers, 34 runs and 37 RBI’s. David was also a September call up with the Cardinals, where he hit .323 over 34 plate appearances, which appeared to have put Freese in good position going into 2010.
With Mozeliak stating that free agent Mark Derosa is far from a guarantee to come back and that Freese will have the opportunity to start coming out of spring training, it appears that the roadblocks have finally cleared for Freese. Scott Rolen, Troy Glaus, Mark Derosa, and Brett Wallace have all appeared ahead of Freese on the depth chart at one point or another, and all have been shipped out through trade or appear to be leaving via free agency, leaving Freese as the likely starter for 2010. So what do the Cardinals have in Freese? Using his 2008 AAA stats* and finding his Major League Equivalents(MLE’s) , Freese’s 2008 projects to a .267/.313/.456 line for a .769 ops with 20 home runs, 66 runs, and 72 RBI’s. That’s slightly below league average with the bat for third base, but slightly above league average offensively overall. Freese also fills a need by having a good reputation for hitting lefties, a season long problem in St. Louis. In the minors Freese struck out in around 25% of his p.a.’s while walking in a healthy 10%, so while his obp was an acceptable .353 in AAA in 2008 his MLE obp was .313, so Freese doesn’t exactly have very good patience at the plate and should probably hit down in the lineup. A lot of Freese’s value lies in his leather at third base. Freese is considered a good defender, and combining his offensive and defensive output into WAR(Wins Above Replacement) puts him at a 2 win player, which definitely carries some value considering will be getting paid the league minimum. A 2 WAR player on the free agent market can reasonably expect to get paid 8.8 million, so for the Cardinals to get that kind of value for league minimum would definitely help balance the budget as they try to improve on other areas.
In conclusion, David Freese isn’t a star in the making like Colby Rasmus, but is a respectable player that will basically be free next season. Considering that Cardinal third baseman in 2009 were put up a combined .652 ops and were -4.5 runs below average in the field, it’s pretty safe to say that Freese will represent an improvement at the hot corner in 2010. As the Cardinals move forward and try to do bigger things like lock up Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday, having solid but not spectacular players like Freese will be a necessity to help keep the payroll down.
*Since 2008 was Freese’s only full season in AAA and he was basically the same player in a half season of AAA in 2009, his 08’ stats were used for his MLE’s.