Does David Freese foreshadow the future of Cardinal prospects? Ideally, yes.
The Cardinals of the early 2000s benefited greatly from Walt
Jocketty's willingness to trade prospects willy-nilly for veterans.
Statistical analysis was still infantile at the time and in a battle of
scouting departments, Jocketty usually did well for himself. The
addition of guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen at relatively cheap
costs proved fortuitous.
The Cardinals of the late 2000s surely look like a transitional
period in retrospect. The team went through a rebuilding process that
was masked largely by the club's ability to spin gold with mediocre
pitchers and having the best player in MLB during his prime. Albert
Pujols of the late 2000s masks a lot of sins.
Now the Cardinals find themselves reaping the bountiful harvest of
prospects they've been caring for since 2005 on. The organization has
built depth in their system and blue-chip prospects that is arguably the
best in the league. I'd take the Cardinals pre-arbitration team over
just about anyone else's.
The Cardinals aren't likely to see the arrival of pitchers like
Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal for a
while again and almost certainly not at the same time. The coincidence
of their ascendance to the majors makes for a formidable amount of
young, cheap talent producing at the same time.
In a few years, it will make for a formidable amount of young, highly
credentialed talent headed for arbitration at the same time.
This will be the Cardinals next looming decision on a large scale and
it is a fascinating one. The Cardinals aren't the Tampa Bay Rays or
Oakland Athletics that have to trade away their talent. The club has
shown a willingness to extend young players when it makes sense for both
sides (see: Jaime Garcia, Allen Craig). But extending one or two
players is different than extending five or six. The club has also seen
some of their early contract extensions hampered by injuries. Their is
So while the Cardinals don't have to be the Rays or Athletics, in a sense they get
to be those teams -- or at least the best part of those teams. The
Cardinals will have the chance to be supremely opportunistic over the
next 3-4 years. They get the chance to watch for the next Wil Myers who
is about to hit the market from a desperate GM and then trade for that
player from their stock of players approaching free agency.
David Freese isn't a perfect parable for this story. He was coming
off a down year and the Cardinals received an injured player in return.
As much as anything, this was a swap of underperforming players. From a
contract perspective, however, this is exactly the type of deal the
Cardinals will be looking to make in coming years. They shift a player
whose salary is rising and whom they aren't overly interested in
extending to another club for a cost controlled, younger asset.
The trade of Freese has all sorts of complicating factors but it's
the first indication in some time that he Cardinals are willing to part
with some slightly aged Fabrege eggs -- to resurrect the derisive Joe
Strauss term from a few years ago. (PS - I have to wonder if Strauss
sees how foolish that all looks now that said eggs were the foundation
of the Cardinals post season run last year. I'll guess he lacks the
introspective quality to acknowledge it. Alas.) The club now has to
figure out how to transition from trading those medium value players
like Freese to trading someone with a lot more value that they can't
agree to a club-friendly deal with.
If you've watched the Athletics or Rays over the years, what they've
shown is that there is a pretty clean timeline for moving a player.
Somewhere between that player having two seasons of arbitration left and
having one season of arbitration left. Basically, there's a two
offseason window with a summer trade deadline in between. Trading
players too early is giving up too much of their surplus value. Trading
players too late means a diminished return during the trade. Call it
the Goldilocks of trade timing: not to early, not to late but just
Each trade is it's own beast and no one is immune to a bad trade. The
particulars of what dumb/desperate GMs are out there in any given
offseason vary. The availability of other prospects that interest a team
changes. But the Cardinals have an opportunity to turn their drafting
success into a cyclical product that essentially rebuilds itself --
while continuing to augment through the draft.
The Athletics and the Rays have shown what that model looks like. The
Cardinals can emulate it. The fun part is that the Cardinals can
emulate it ... and then spend another $60M a year that those clubs
It's a good time to be a Cardinals fan.