If the November 2013 trade between the Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals was a Hollywood script, it would need a logline to sell. In dealing outfielders Randal Grichuk and Peter Bourjos for third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas: “The Angels traded future greatness for past glory.”
I don’t want to come down too hard on Freese, who by all accounts is a good guy and still has some pop in his bat. But let’s be honest, unless he goes on a serious power surge, Freese, who was a hero during the Cardinals’ 2011 postseason run, will have his best years well behind him.
St. Louis felt that Freese’s all-around offensive game had regressed and was prepared to shift Matt Carpenter from second base to third base, so they moved their attention toward adding depth in the outfield. Enter Grichuk, whom the Angels thought highly enough of to draft him one spot before another pretty good outfielder by the name of Mike Trout fell into their lap.
Grichuk battled injuries early on, but his abilities were never in question. His defense began to improve drastically, and the ball jumped off his bat just as much as Freese’s, whose opposite-field power is one of his strong suits. But while some wondered if Grichuk would ever fully reach his potential, Freese’s batting average has declined every year since 2011.
Now, Freese, 32, is sidelined with a broken finger while Grichuk, 23, is getting rave reviews for his all-around play. The 32-year-old Freese was batting just .240 prior to his injury and .252 overall in a year-plus with Los Angeles. He has 11 home runs but just a .309 on-base percentage. On the other hand, Grichuk is batting .281, also hitting 11 homers while posting a .333 OBP, .561 slugging percentage and .894 OPS. He also showed a flair for the dramatic with two postseason homers last October.
Basically, Freese, who was an All-Star in 2012, rode the wave of his magical 2011 for as long as he could, but it looks like the fairy dust has worn off. He has not slugged above .400 with the Angels, while Grichuk appears to be improving daily. Freese’s postseason heroics made him a household name, but it’s Grichuk who should be getting more attention these days.
Even as the Bourjos-Salas portion of the deal has been a wash, with both making minimal contributions with their new clubs, Grichuk is ascending while Freese appears to be treading water at best. The Angels had hoped Freese’s past glory would translate to present success, but it’s Grichuk that may be headed towards greatness.