David Freese arrived in Anaheim during the 2013 offseason in a controversial (at least around these parts) trade with the St. Louis Cardinals. Most of us seemed to feel Dipoto grossly over-paid for a mediocre third baseman, while some savvy members of our community rightly picked Randal Grichuk as the piece that would come back to haunt us the most. While Grichuk has indeed been the crown jewel for the Cardinals in that transaction, Freese has at least done his part and filled the third base void somewhat admirably, posting 3.8 WAR and a 106 OPS+ over his two seasons with the Angels.
Those numbers hardly qualify the steady third sacker for a lifetime extension, but he finished 2015 a dead-average 16th among MLB third basemen with a 2.4 WAR, behind Evan Longoria's 3.2 WAR and well ahead of Chase Headley (whom many of us, myself included, advocated signing last year) and his 1.1 WAR. Freese stopped the bleeding at third and that's all we could have reasonably expected.
He will soon find himself a free agent for the first time as he enters his age-33 season. He leads a list that includes Juan Uribe, Aramis Ramirez, Casey McGehee and Gordon Beckham. This puts new Angels' GM Billy Eppler in quite the precarious position. Does he pay up to retain the third baseman, who enters a weak free-agent market at the top of his class, rely on internal options taking a step forward or get creative through the trade market?
After a quick perusal of major league rosters, we can confidently eliminate a good chunk of teams from entering the third base market this offseason:
Chicago Cubs (Bryant)
San Francisco (Duffy)
Kansas City (Moustakas)
St. Louis (Carpenter)
Tampa Bay (Longoria)
NY Yankees (Headley)
NY Mets (Wright)
Boston (Sandoval... haha!)
Houston (Valbuena + prospects)
Pittsburg could decide to supplement their roster depending on Jung Ho Kang's recovery from his gruesome leg injury, though they can lean on utility man Josh Harrison if Kang doesn't recover in time for the start of the season. Other teams that are re-building/cheap that are likely to stay out of the bidding for Freese include Oakland, Miami, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Arizona.
Detroit seems to have some incentive to overpay for Freese. Nick Castellanos is still only 23 but just had his second consecutive underwhelming season with the bat and is generally regarded as a disaster with the glove at third. While Freese is no Gold Glove candidate himself, his defensive shortcomings have largely been overstated around these parts. With the outrageous contracts given to Cabrera and Martinez and no prospects ready to man the hot corner, the Tigers are clearly in no mood to go into rebuild mode and may view Freese as a guy who could round out their roster.
The White Sox are another AL Central team who aren't quite set to tear the whole thing down, with a roster full of middling players who should be entering or just leaving their prime. They have a good collection of arms that could easily see them be competitive again next season. While they do have a couple of interesting prospects for third base, none are particularly close, while former top prospect Mike Olt appears to be a bust.
Washington currently has Yunel Escobar entrenched at third, but with Ian Desmond headed towards free agency and coming off another disappointing season, they may elect to let him walk and shift Escobar back to his original position, opening a spot for Freese at the hot corner.
Milwaukee always seems to toe the line between going for it and rebuilding. They have a fairly decent farm system but no immediate solution for third base. Freese could fill the void for a few years and they've shown before they won't shy away from signing an older third baseman (Aramis Ramirez). Assuming the Angels do not make him a qualifying offer, Freese could be on the table for the Brewers.
Which brings us, of course, to our Angels. It would seem prudent to make Freese that qualifying offer. It has not yet been set for the upcoming offseason, but it goes up roughly $1 million each season - $13.3M in 2012, $14.1M in 2013 and $15.3M in 2014. With salaries continuing to rise, we can safely assume that number will fall somewhere in the $16-17 million mark, or what Freese has made in his entire career, to date. A few days ago, our own SenorChuckles suggested Freese could be re-signed for 4 years/$65 million. While I believe that's a little on the high side, I don't find it unrealistic for one of the teams listed above to offer something in the range of 3-4 years at the tune of $15M per. As Mr. Chuckles pointed out, Chase Headley received 4 years/$52M from the Yankees just last year. It is important to remember, however, that Headley was two years younger than Freese is now, with a similar offensive profile and a better defensive pedigree. For me, 1-2 years at $16M per is right in line with Freese's true value. Anything that reaches his age 35 season or beyond and the Angels are asking for trouble.
If Freese rejects the QO (both the White Sox and Tigers should have protected picks), what should the Angels do? I don't think anyone is ready to hand to the keys to Kubitza or Cowart, at least not without some sort of veteran utility player to back them up. There could be some interesting guys to explore in the trade market:
- Martin Prado could certainly be had from the Marlins and would at the very least be an upgrade over Featherston as a utility infielder.
- Cincinnati is in rebuild mode and could look to move Todd Frazier, though he's a hometown hero and is still fairly cheap the next couple years. However, he'll never be more valuable than he is today, so if they are serious about rebuilding the time to trade him is now. To pry him from the Reds' hands would likely require a bundle of prospects the Angels simply do not have.
- Houston could look to move Luis Valbuena to clear room for prospects Colin Moran or J.D. Davis, though both guys probably need a little more seasoning before they are ready, so it's likely Valbuena stays put for now.
- They could target Yangervis Solarte from San Diego, though he appears to be more likely to find a home at first base at this point in his career.
So there you have it, the ever-depressing third base market. This is what we all feared five years ago when Arte failed to sign Adrian Beltre. Do any of the above options sound realistic or even appealing? What would you give Freese to keep him in Anaheim?