Well, the Los Angeles Angels finally found their third baseman. Whether he’s the man at the hot corner for the future, though …
Such are the perils of buying low on a 30-year-old late bloomer like David Freese, but given the current market at third base, it was perhaps as good as it was going to get for Los Angeles. Still, there’s a pretty fine line between buying low and just making a bad purchase, and considering they gave up an arguably superior asset in Peter Bourjos (one of the best defensive center fielders in the game with one extra year of team control), it’s hard to say they’ve done the former.
Now, that’s not to say that Freese can’t be a productive member of the Angels and revert to his 4.0 fWAR ways from 2012, but even if his offensive production bounces back (note that he hasn’t exactly a poor hitter in 2013), there’s still the issue of him needing to recover defensively.
Considering that he was never particularly great there even in his best year and was a total mess in 2013 (-22.7 UZR/150, 14.9 fielding runs below average — both worst in MLB), let’s just say he’s got his work cut out for him.
Still, Freese was an All-Star in 2012, and his offensive performance is one of the major reasons why the team made the move to bring him to L.A. Unfortunately, though, they’ll have to make a decision relatively quickly on whether they want him to stay in the long run. Entering his second year of arbitration for the upcoming season, the third baseman is slated to become a free agent after the the 2015 season.
So, the team has a couple of seasons to find out if they want to extend him — what’s the issue?
It normally wouldn’t be one, except for the fact that Freese is going to be entering his age-33 season in his first year of free agency, putting another wrinkle on the Angels’ decision on whether or not to go forward with him. If he has a great season in 2014 and they get an extension done early, the team takes on significant risk of overpaying a player well past his athletic prime — an issue that they’re well versed in these days.
If they don’t extend him? Then they’ve arguably made a short-sighted trade, moving a player with Bourjos’ skill set who has yet to enter his prime and who was a 4.2 fWAR player in his only full season in the majors … when he was just 24.
And what of the worst-case scenario, where Freese repeats his 2013 and continues to be the worst defensive third baseman in the bigs while producing a modest OPS in the mid-.700s? In that case, the Angels wouldn’t have solved even their short-term needs at third base, let alone the long-term ones.
Regardless of what happens, it doesn’t seem as though Los Angeles are in an optimal situation here. The best that they can hope for with this trade is to reap the short-term benefits, but it’s a Band-Aid solution rather than a sustained one. You could argue that it’ll have all been worth it if they end up making the playoffs and Freese re-discovers his postseason magic, but there’s little doubt that the search for the Angels’ third baseman of the future continues in the background.