Cards upgrade center; Freese gets fresh start

Cards upgrade center; Freese gets fresh start

The St. Louis Cardinals traded 2011 World Series hero David Freese to improve in centerfield.

Peter Bourjos gives the Cardinals a center fielder who is so talented defensively that the Angels moved Mike Trout to left. Bourjos, only 26, is one of baseball's fastest players and plays with a hustle that surely will endear him to Cardinals' fans.

In other words, he has all the tools and makeup to make an excellent fit as an everyday center fielder with the Cardinals.

Still, the biggest winner in Friday's four-player trade between the Cardinals and Angels is David Freese. A fresh start will do him great good. And really, there was no way he was going to accomplish anything greater for his hometown than he did in the 2011 postseason.

"This could not have been the easiest place for him to play," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. "Even though he loved being a Cardinal, I do think he may be looking forward to a fresh start. This was not an easy year for him."

Another season like his 2013 -- during which he hit a disappointing .262 (.179 in the playoffs) with nine homers -- and some of the shine off his standing would have been jeopardized. Now he's joining a club badly in need of a third baseman that wanted him. Southern California is not a bad place to spend baseball seasons, either.

Losing Freese and adding Bourjos changes more than two positions for the 2014 Cardinals. It gives the club a much speedier lineup and the ability to cover more ground on defense by upgrading three positions. With Freese gone, the Cardinals plan to move Matt Carpenter to third base, his natural position, and make Kolten Wong the regular second baseman. Wong not only is a superior defender to Carpenter, he will be the second-fastest player in the lineup.

Bourjos is swift enough to compensate for the team's lack of range in left and right field with Matt Holliday and Allen Craig. While Mozeliak didn't say Bourjos will be handed center field over Jon Jay, the GM pointed out numerous reasons why the newest Cardinal has a decided advantage. Among them: He rights right-handed, which is an advantage given Jay in center with Wong at second would give the lineup four lefty hitters, he is a superior defender and he brings an element of speed that has been lacking.

Mozeliak said the potential loss of power in a lineup that will be missing its leading home run hitter, free agent Carlos Beltran, is not yet a concern. One reason: "There's more power in (Carpenter's) tank."

With a career line of .251/.306/.398, Bourjos isn't known for his offense. But he hit 12 homers in 2011, the only time in his four seasons he has played more than 101 games, and he was batting .326 on June 29 before he broke a bone in his right wrist when he was hit by a pitch. The injury pretty much curtailed his season as he struggled after his return in August and eventually was shut down in mid-September.

"When I came back, I felt like I had to cheat to catch up to anything," Bourjos admitted. "I was in pain when I checked my swing. Even when I made contact, it didn't feel right."

From his home in the Phoenix area, where he was working out when he learned of the trade Friday afternoon, he added, "Everything feels great right now." He has not started swinging a bat but hopes to do so in another couple of weeks.

Bourjos also spent more than a month on the disabled list with a hamstring injury in the first half and he served minimum-stay stints in 2011 and 2012. But when he's healthy, he's the kind of defender that excites scouts as well as fans.

"In that spacious center field in Busch, you are going to see some unbelievable plays," said a scout. "I really have nothing to say negative about him. He has a fairly short, choppy, compact swing but deceptive power. He is very athletic and has good instincts. He is the perfect baseball player for St. Louis because he plays with the same intensity throughout every game."

So he's better than Jay?

"At best, I think Jay is an average center fielder. This guy can be a spectacular center fielder."

In the trade that also cost the Cardinals forgotten reliever Fernando Salas, the club gained a 22-year-old power-hitting prospect, Randal Grichuk, who hit 22 homers and 27 doubles in the Class AA Texas League last season. His inclusion, Mozeliak said, was a crucial part of being able to complete the trade -- a trade that looks very strong for the Cardinals.

And will be even better for Freese, the hometown hero who gets a fresh start.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @stanmcneal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.

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