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Freese Frame

In Baseball on November 27, 2013 at 11:24 pm

CDH’s Ian Brickey is a dyed-in-the-wool Cardinals fan. Read how he thinks the Nov. 22 trade of third basemen David Freese helps the team, but hurts from a fan perspective.

Just in time for Thanksgiving, the St. Louis Cardinals hot stove league heated up. On Nov. 22, the Cardinals traded third baseman David Freese and relief pitcher Fernando Salas to the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for center fielder Peter Bourjos and outfield prospect Randal Grichuk. On its face, the trade appears to benefit both teams. With Bourjos, St. Louis gets improved outfield defense over a regressing Jon Jay, and Matt Carpenter’s shift to the hot corner from second base improves the team’s infield defense. Meanwhile, the Angels get a veteran third baseman with power and an experienced reliever with closer capability.

The trade came at a surprise to no one, least of all Freese. “I definitely would look myself in the mirror and say, ‘Where am I going to be in March?’” Freese said to ESPN. “I was ready to go anywhere.” Freese knew, the teams knew, and all parties — even Freese, the St. Louis native — appear to be better off for the deal. So why does the deal leave me with a bad taste in my mouth?

Freese came to the Cardinals via trade in 2008. In his first deal as Cardinals general manager, John Mozeliak sent center fielder Jim Edmonds to the San Diego Padres for then-minor league third baseman Freese. I remember not liking the trade when I first heard of it. Edmonds had been a key figure in my nascent Cardinals fandom, and his eight-year tenure in St. Louis had practically made him an institution. His theatrics in the outfield and his flair for the dramatic in the postseason made him one of my favorite players, and to see him shipped off to a team like the Padres in exchange for a minor league nobody struck me as disrespectful to Jimmy Ballgame. Thankfully, since then, I’ve become more familiar with advanced metrics, and I’ve come to understand that players are cogs within the team. But it’s important that I remember those 2008 feelings before I continue.

Freese made his Cardinals debut on Opening Day 2009. He wasn’t the team’s first choice to start, and only a fluke injury to Troy Glaus forced him into the lineup. But he got little playing time that season, overshadowed by the likes of Brian Barden and Joe Thurston. Freese was pegged as the starter in 2010, but a right ankle injury limited him to 70 games. It wouldn’t be until 2011 that St. Louis fans saw what the hometown kid could do.

2011 was a magical year for the Cardinals. After spending most of the season in the doldrums, St. Louis went on a winning tear in September and edged out the Atlanta Braves for the wild card on the last day of the season. The team’s success was due in no little part to Freese’s emergence as an offensive player. He had been injured again — this time by a hit by pitch that fractured his left hand. But in 97 games, Freese batted .297, slugged .441 and had 10 home runs. Of course, his most memorable hits that year came in the World Series against the Texas Rangers. With the Cardinals down to their last strike in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6 and with the series on the line, Freese lined a game-tying triple to right field. I can still remember him sliding into third base and resting on his knees, the enormity of the moment yet to hit him. But the night wasn’t over, and the Cardinals again sent Freese to the plate in the bottom of the eleventh with the game on the line. On a 1-0 pitch, Freese crushed a home run to center field that sealed the game for St. Louis and forced a decisive Game 7. The hometown kid had delivered.

Really, I think it’s that moment that makes me so saddened about the Freese trade. As a Cardinals fan, I know it benefits the team defensively, and it allows top prospect Kolten Wong to play second everyday. It also moves Freese both at the beginning of his decline period and just as he was due a significant raise through arbitration.

And yet, I feel like Freese never got his due in St. Louis. He came to the Cardinals via a trade involving a fan favorite player in Jim Edmonds. And he was tasked with filling in at third for one of the greatest third basemen in the team’s history in Scott Rolen. He had a major injury in each of his four extended seasons with the team, and twice he played fewer than 100 games. With those shoes to fill and that kind of injury history, the deck was stacked against him when it came time for Mozeliak to explore trades.

What’s most remarkable, however, is the seeming indifference to Freese among St. Louis fans. Most members of the St. Louis sports media support the trade, but a disturbingly large segment of Cardinals fans seem in favor of it for no other reason than dumping Freese. One Facebook status put it succinctly: “See Ya Freese, Thanks For That One Good Season Alcohalic [sic]/Cokehead. Tell Albert Hi[.]” While that’s (hopefully) hyperbole and certainly deserves to be featured on @BestFansInBaseball, I think too many fans agree with the overall sentiment, “Thanks for the title, now be on your way.” You can support the trade, you can look at Freese’s declining numbers, you can even look at his God-awful Imo’s pizza commercials in order to come to that sentiment. But I would encourage the Freese-haters to remember that one night in October 2011 when David Freese, the local kid, fulfilled our collective childhood dream and gave us one more night of baseball. You can support the trade — I do — but you shouldn’t forget that moment.

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