Former World Series MVP David Freese was traded by his hometown St. Louis Cardinals to the Los Angeles Angels in a four-player deal Friday that reunites Albert Pujols with a pair of ex-teammates.
In a conference call with media, Freese said he got a welcoming text from Pujols and responded with a reference to the 2011 World Series: "Remember what we did the last time we played together? Let's go try to do that again."
Freese didn't think his drop-off in production last season had anything to do with the pressure of being the "hometown kid."
"Obviously, I'm a little sad closing this chapter, but I'm extremely pumped about joining the Angels," Freese said. "If it was going to go down, I wanted it to happen on a team like the Angels."
St. Louis obtained a new starting centre fielder in Peter Bourjos, plus outfield prospect Randal Grichuk. The Cardinals also sent reliever Fernando Salas to the Angels.
"Overall, we just felt this was a very compelling deal to make," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said.
Freese's departure did not come as a surprise.
"I definitely would look myself in the mirror and say, 'Where am I going to be in March?"' Freese said. "I was ready to go anywhere. I'm excited to get this going."
Former World Series MVP
The 30-year-old was the MVP of the 2011 NL championship series and the World Series, setting a major league record with 21 post-season RBIs and hitting a game-ending, 11th-inning home run in Game 6.
Freese injured his back chasing a foul ball into the stands during spring training this year and never hit stride. He hit only .179 in this year's post-season, going 3-for-19 (.158) with no RBIs in the six-game loss to Boston in the World Series.
"David, growing up in St. Louis, this could not have been the easiest place to play," Mozeliak said. "I do think he may be looking forward to a fresh start. This was not an easy year for him."
Freese batted .262 with nine homers and 60 RBIs, a letdown from career bests of 20 homers, 79 RBIs and a .293 average the previous year. Freese made $3.15 million and is eligible for salary arbitration.
"He knows how to drive in the important runs," Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto said. "That's something that really fits in our lineup."
The Angels were a match because they need a third baseman and Freese didn't figure as the long-term solution at third for St. Louis. The Cardinals will move second baseman Matt Carpenter to third, opening a position for former top draft pick Kolten Wong.
Wong batted just .153 in 32 games last fall and was picked off first base to end Game 4 of the World Series against the Red Sox. Mozeliak said that was just a "snapshot" of Wong, who batted .303 with 20 steals in 21 chances at Triple-A Memphis.
"It gives Wong a clear shot," Mozeliak said. "I think he's going to hit."
Pujols also played on the 2011 title team before signing a $240 million, 10-year deal with the Angels. Bourjos said Pujols called him just before the start of a teleconference with St. Louis media and Bourjos planned to call back later, adding, "I'm going to pick his brain a little bit more, but I can't wait."
The trade adds about $4 million to the payroll of the Angels, who have yet to add starting pitching. Jason Vargas left this week for a $32 million, four-year contract with Kansas City.
The Angels haven't had an accomplished third baseman since Chone Figgins left after the 2009 — their last post-season appearance. Their outfield next season is likely to be Josh Hamiliton in left, Trout in centre and Kole Calhoun in right.
Coming off their second World Series appearance in three years, the Cardinals have shed more than $45 million in payroll with Chris Carpenter, Carlos Beltran, Jake Westbrook, Rafael Furcal and Edward Mujica also off the books.
The 28-year-old Salas had 24 saves in 2011, but did not have a major role in the bullpen the last two years and spent part of 2013 in the minors. He was 0-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 27 games last year.
The 26-year-old Bourjos, who bumps Jon Jay to the bench, was supposed to be the Angels' everyday centre fielder last year after Los Angeles allowed Torii Hunter to leave and traded Kendrys Morales. Trout was moved to left to accommodate Bourjos, who is a better fielder.
"We did juggle some things around to make sure he got an opportunity, and it didn't play out the way we hoped or the way he hoped," Dipoto said.
Bourjos missed May with a hamstring strain, then broke his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch in Houston on June 29. He played just 55 games, said he was "getting real close" to full strength.
A career .251 hitter with speed, Bourjos stole 41 bases in 54 attempts and was among AL leaders with 11 triples, 17 bunt hits and 38 infield hits in 2011.
Allen Craig will move to right field next year, making room for slugger Matt Adams at first base, with Matt Holliday in left field. Top prospect Oscar Taveras is expected to make the team but without the pressure of starting in centre field.
The 22-year-old Grichuk was the 24th overall selection in the 2009 amateur draft, one ahead of Mike Trout, and starred at Double-A Arkansas last season. Dipoto said Grichuk likely would have begun next season at the Triple-A level.
"There's still some growing he needs to do at the plate, but Randal has the upside to play at the major league level," Dipoto said. "I hope he ends up a major league player."
Grichuk had 57 extra-base hits, including a team-leading 22 homers that ranked sixth in the Texas League. He batted leadoff the majority of the time and made two errors in the outfield, playing centre and right field. Grichuk has a .284 average with 61 homers and 259 RBIs in 433 minor league games.