One of the men most responsible for the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series championship is currently locked in a battle with the team to be paid more like the star he is becoming, but this isn’t the type of battle that should raise serious concerns.
David Freese is one of the most talented young position players the Cardinals have, and he has plenty of potential to grow into another St. Louis baseball superstar. So far, the team has gotten an incredible bargain with Freese, who has made just $1.7 million total in his four-year career and is currently the 16th highest-paid player on the team.
It’s time for Freese to start earning more money. In his four years with the club, Freese has hit .296 and his power numbers have increased exponentially each year. He finished with career highs in hits, homeruns, doubles, runs scored and RBIs in 2012. And don’t forget he has a career .345 postseason batting average and was the MVP of the 2011 National League Championship Series and World Series.
He could fairly easily make a case that he deserves more than the $3.75 million he is asking for this offseason. The Cardinals have countered with a $2.4-million offer. The case will go to arbitration sometime between Monday and Feb. 20 if the two sides can’t strike a deal.
Now, while all of this sounds as though Freese and the Cardinals can’t see eye-to-eye on his worth, this is more of just a typical baseball business deal. Nobody will have their feelings hurt too no matter how the case finally plays out. The Cardinals have already finalized similar deals with relievers Jason Motte, Mitchell Boggs, Edward Mujica and Marc Rzepczynski.
Even if the case goes to arbitration and the Cardinals win, Freese will be in line for a big-money contract within the next three years. He won’t be a free agent until 2016. By that point the Cardinals will know whether Freese is going to be a franchise cornerstone at third base or if he will succumb to his substantial injury history that has kept him from playing 100 or more games in all but one season.
However, the Cardinals would still be smart to lock Freese up with a long-term deal as soon as possible because player salaries will only continue to rise throughout Major League Baseball.
The Cardinals made a smart decision early in Albert Pujols’ career to sign him to a 10-year, $110-million contract in 2001, and that deal was considered a bargain by the time it expired at the end of the 2011 season. Pujols’ next contract was worth more than twice that amount when he signed a 10-year, $240-million deal last year with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.
Freese and the Cardinals would both be in better positions if they could work out a long-term deal sometime soon, but right now the organization has other pressing matters. Namely, Adam Wainwright’s contract.
Wainwright is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season, and his asking price will likely be astronomical if the Cardinals can’t sign him to a contract before he hits the open market.
The Cardinals did sign catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75-million contract last offseason, so they will have a strong core group of position players for the next few years.
And that’s what makes Freese’s contract situation a tad bit irrelevant. The difference of little more than $1 million this year shouldn’t have much of an effect on future negotiations.
Freese will get paid what he is due at some point. How soon the Cardinals will be willing to make that commitment is what will be the most interesting part of this situation.