(BaseballStL) -- Some baseball general managers assemble a team through huge free agent contracts, grabbing a hitter here and a pitcher there, like sticking pins in a voodoo doll.
Others thoughtfully and skillfully assess their current team’s strengths and weaknesses and explore ways to enhance the former and eradicate the latter.
Cards GM John Mozeliak is the preeminent member of that second group, cementing his place as a shrewd, practical shepherd of the Cardinal fortunes with Friday’s absolute steal of a trade that accomplished much for the Cardinals on many levels.
Fans are almost never realistic about trade opportunities, often suggesting that players they personally don’t like be packaged together for one of baseball’s elite stars.
But in the real world, one team with a surplus at one position and needs at another locates a dance partner with whom a reasonable, mutually beneficial deal can be struck. Trades often achieve more than just the acquisition of a quality player as Friday’s deal illustrates. Sometimes room must be made for promising players who cannot be left to languish in the minors while aging veterans slowly lose their skills. Young players need to be promoted and given their opportunity to succeed or fail and veterans must be traded before their value diminishes.
The trade of David Freese for Los Angeles Angels outfielder Peter Bourgos extracts maximum value for a soon-to-be 31-year-old third baseman who made it rain in 2011 with a pyrotechnic burst of glory that could never be repeated.
“Our memory of David gets captured in a four week period where he was one of the hottest hitters on Earth,” said Mozeliak Friday. “So our expectations rose and what we wanted to keep seeing and believed we could see (never materialized). At some point it’s hard to live up to those expectations. Growing up in St. Louis, this couldn’t have been the easiest place for him to play given those circumstances.”
The trade allows Kolton Wong – who career must either advance in St. Louis or somewhere else – to move to second base and probably means John Jay’s days are numbered. That foretells a Cardinal team that will now have speed at the top of the order, a better defense and a surplus of outfield talent.
“It makes for a competitive camp, is what it does,” Mozeliak said. “When you look our outfield perhaps with an Allen Craig in right and Matt Holliday in left, somebody like a Peter Bourjos will certainly help that.
“I think it does improve the club defensively. But I wouldn’t diminish what it would do for us offensively. Adding that speed element is something we could benefit from as well.”
While Bourgos adds speed, defense and a potentially better bat than John Jay, it is the other piece of the trade that has the potential to cement this as one of Mozeliak’s finest moves.
The minor leaguer the Cardinals also obtained was not an afterthought. Randal Grichuk was a first round draft pick by the Angels as a 17-year-old high school player, taken before Mike Trout in the 2009 draft. His development has been slowed by injuries from which he has recovered, hitting 40 home runs over the past two minor league seasons and developing into a plus-outfielder.
Add him to the outfield pool which includes Stephen Piscotty, Oscar Taveras and Mike O’Neill and the Redbirds have their own surplus; more ammunition for a trade or protection against injury.
By moving Freese before he commands a $5 million salary and before his skills further erode, Mozeliak was able to obtain not just a potential speedy outfielder to cover ground in what is otherwise a mediocre outfield, but he also gathers in another first round pick who at 22, has plenty of time to develop the way the Angels once thought he would.
“Adding the young player, Mr. Grichuk was also critical to getting this done,” Mozeliak acknowledged. “Any time you can add more depth to your system makes sense for us if we can do it.”
One issue has been resolved but the Cards crafty GM is not done.
“Now, there’s a lot of offseason left. A lot of things can still happen.”