Contract extensions are never that simple, nor are they ever locks with the St. Louis Cardinals — just ask Albert Pujols.
Still, it’d be a fairly awkward parting of ways between the team and David Freese a couple of years down the line, no? While the third baseman is still under team control for at least two more seasons, that 2015 might conceivably be his last means that contract talks are bound to come up … not immediately as the team is in the middle of a playoff run, of course, but not too long after either.
Why? Speaking of playoff runs …
See, it’s the postseason that really gives Freese most of his leverage in this situation. Though long-term contracts by nature are obviously about value over time, baseball, especially in the postseason, are about small sample sizes and recent accomplishments. As most Cardinals fans will already know by now, the third baseman has accomplished quite a bit in that regard.
Yes, I know that the main storyline about Cardinals moving on to the 2013 NLCS is mostly going focus on Adam Wainwright and his display of sheer dominance, but make no mistake — that Freese gave him all the run support he needed in Game 5 won’t be forgotten by his ace, his teammates, or Cardinals fans.
Simply put, the fan favorite is a different player when it comes to the postseason. Through 141 PA over 36 playoff games, Freese owns an incredible .325/.390/.611 triple-slash with seven home runs and 29 RBIs. He might not be in Carlos Beltran territory yet, but there’s no question at this point that the hot cornerman was made for the biggest of stages.
And if you couldn’t tell by the sample size already, that’s a pretty good thing for the redbirds because well … they tend to make the playoffs a fair bit.
But are those 141 PA and counting enough to earn him a place not just in Cardinals lore, but on the team’s roster in 2016 and beyond? That may be where a bit of a wrench is thrown into this feel-good story, because Freese has a few things going against him when it comes to the business of baseball.
For one, he was a bit of a late bloomer, not debuting in the bigs until 26-years old. It may not seem like it, but he’s in his age-30 season in 2013 already, and he’ll be entering his age-33 season by the time he’s eligible for free agency in 2016. That’s not exactly a good spot for a player looking for a multi-year contract, and I think you could reasonably say that it’ll be his only shot at a big-money deal in his career.
As if having time against him isn’t enough, he also happens to play third base, a position that (unless your name happens to be Scott Rolen), isn’t one of longevity; but the worst part? Freese just might not be all that great at it.
It hasn’t stopped him from being one of Cardinals Nation’s favourite sons thanks to his postseason heroics, but you don’t have to look too far to see that his 2013 season was actually quite disappointing. Posting a .262/.340/.381 line with little power (nine homers) in an expected breakout season, the 30-year-old also struggled defensively, ending up with a -22.7 UZR/150 at third base.
His 14.9 fielding runs below average was the second-worst among all qualifying defenseman (ahead of only Michael Young), and ditto his 0.3 fWAR. It’s not that Freese hasn’t found regular-season success before as he was a 4.0 fWAR All-Star in 2012, but the fact that he was arguably one of the worst third baseman in baseball in the 2013 regular season won’t be so quickly forgotten by the Cardinals.
I mean, it got to the point where they’d brought up Kolten Wong with the potential of having Matt Carpenter take playing time away from Freese at third, so it’s clear that the team has a plan to move on, no?
Anchoring another World Series run might change his fortunes, of course, but being a playoff legend in Cardinals history might not be enough to keep the third baseman in St. Louis in the long run after all.