The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the best-run organizations in all of baseball, so despite the fact that they made it to the postseason for the 10th time in the last 14 years, and won their fourth National League pennant in the past decade, it felt like a sure thing that the club would take chances to improve.
The team did just that on Friday by acquiring outfielder Peter Bourjos, as well as minor-leaguer Randal Grichuk, in exchange for third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas.
Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak knows the significance of dealing a guy like Freese, but he apparently also knows how badly the team needed a decent center fielder.
"Trading someone with the history of David Freese and what he meant to this organization is never an easy decision," Mozeliak said in a press conference on Friday. "When you think back to earlier in the year when we talked about what we needed to do to improve this club moving forward, we keyed on center field and adding some speed.
"What really drove this decision was being able to identify a player that could do just that," Mozeliak added
Bourjos is regarded as one of the fastest players in the league, as Mozeliak noted, and he provides a large defensive upgrade in center, a position at which the Cardinals rated last in the National League in terms of Total Zone Runs Saved. Bourjos struggled in the field during an injury-plagued 2013 season but was a combined 35 runs above average during the previous three years.
Replacing Freese, who has a career 115 OPS+, in the lineup in order to improve their outfield defense isn't an easy task, but Mozeliak and the Cardinals have the personnel and a plan to make it work. "[The deal] does create [an opportunity] to move Matt [Carpenter] to third and gives [Kolten] Wong a clear shot at becoming the second baseman," Mozeliak explained.
Carpenter has performed well in limited action at third base in his career and his offensive exploits are well known. Wong finished the season as the No. 47 prospect in all of baseball, according to Minor League Ball's John Sickels, and his career .301/.365/.446 line in the minors says more about him than a short big-league stint in which he struggled.
The main concern for the Cardinals should be whether or not Bourjos' speed and defense will be enough to overcome the offensive production of Jon Jay, who posted a .351 on-base percentage in 2013 and has a career OPS+ of 109, though his postseason performance (.188/.263/.219 in 183 plate appearances) might make people forget that.
Jay will still likely see time in the outfield, along with top prospect Oscar Taveras, in place of free-agent veteran Carlos Beltran. If that combination can hold its own and Wong can establish himself at the plate, St. Louis has a shot at being a more complete team next season than it was in 2013.