Feldman: Allen Craig deal shines spotlight on Freese

Feldman: Allen Craig deal shines spotlight on Freese

Credit: Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - OCTOBER 14: David Freese #23 of the St. Louis Cardinals hits a home run in the second inning of Game One of the National League Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on October 14, 2012 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

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by Brian Feldman, BaseballSTL

BaseballSTL

Posted on March 9, 2013 at 9:23 AM

JUPITER, Fla (BaseballSTL) -- It's like clockwork with these St. Louis Cardinals.  Draft and develop an impact player, promote through the system, expose to the major leagues, watch them reach their potential for a few seasons, sign to long term deal buying out arbitrations years and delaying free agency.
 
Repeat.
 
They've done it with Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright, Jaime Garcia and now Allen Craig.  Heck, even Jason Motte and Skip Schumaker have received multi year deals during their arbitration seasons.
 
When a top-of-the-line player is just a handful of years away from being a free agent, the Cardinals almost always find a way to lock them up through their prime years.  The player wants security.  The team wants stability.  It's always a win-win.
 
Yet here we are and local hometown kid turned 2011 World Series MVP, David Freese, is without a long term contract.  He's produced as much impact for this organization as anyone, Craig included, but can't even get a sniff of that security from the front office executives he's helped look like geniuses.
 
Let's look at both Allen Craig's (who received his five year guaranteed contract with an option for a sixth year yesterday) and David Freese's stats from the 2012 season shall we?
 
Freese: .293 batting average, .372 on-base percentage, .839 OPS, 20 home runs, worth 3.6 wins above replacement
Craig: .307 batting average, .354 on-base percentage, .876 OPS, 22 home runs, worth 2.2 wins above replacement
 
Awfully close, no?
 
From a production standpoint, there isn't a whole lot separating the two corner infielders. Freese has Craig, ever so slightly, in the OBP category but Craig possesses a little more raw power (he's hit a home run every 21.16 at-bats in his career versus 31.57 for the third baseman).
 
But given what Freese did in the playoffs in 2011, given what he did in the regular season this past year, you'd think that'd be enough for the Cardinals to want to lock him up and delay his free agency.
 
And here in lies the answer.  Or, rather, what is likely the answer given how the club would never publicly comment on such a matter.
 
Health.
 
2012 was the first year since Freese was brought up that he did not miss significant time due to injury.  2009 - ankle.  2010 - ankle.  2011 - hand.
 
I'll never forget interviewing GM John Mozeliak after the Cards beat the Rangers in Game 7 of the World Series in 2011 and asking him about David Freese.  One of the things he mentioned was how you have to be able to stay on the field.  Funny thing is, I never asked Mozeliak about Freese's health or his long term standing within the organization.  Just about how great he'd been.
 
But it provided a glimpse into his - and thus the organization's - thinking regarding David Freese.  It appears they just are not willing, right now, to commit to him based on his medical history.  Despite playing in 144 games last year and getting 501 at-bats, that's not enough.
 
Look back at the contracts the Cards have given to Chris Carpenter in the last six years.  The pitching ace received a five year, $63.5 million deal from 2007-2011.  He then received another contract for $21 million for 2012-2013.
 
That's seven years total.  We can now comfortably say he'll have pitched in eight, yes EIGHT, regular season games in four of those seven years.  One in 2007, four in 2008, three in 2012 and a big fat zero in 2013.
 
You'll have to pardon the Cardinals for being a little cautious when it comes to handing out long term deals to guys who have a history of being unavailable.
 
How much longer will it take for Freese to prove he can stay healthy?  Will the Cardinals ever believe in his availability?
 
It's not like there's no depth in the minor league system at third base to protect themselves.  Matt Carpenter is ready now.  Recent draft pick Carson Kelly could be ready by the time Freese is a free agent in three years.
 
John Mozeliak has options.
 

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