The moments of brilliance for St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese come in flashes.
He hit one of the most memorable home runs in franchise history in the 11th inning of Game 6 of the 2011 World Series against the Texas Rangers and just Monday he delivered a vital pinch-hit, two-run double to extend the Cardinals lead to 8-5 in the eighth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers.
But those moments are not enough for a player who the Cardinals have tried to make a cornerstone at the third base position. They are more fitting of a pinch hitter, such as first baseman Matt Adams, who has been a left-handed, pinch-hitting weapon for the 2013 Cardinals.
Sure, Freese is a good guy, he is considered a good teammate and he combined for a .295 batting average in 2011 and 2012, topping out with 20 home runs and 79 runs batted in during the 2012 season, but he has since become an average player, at best.
He started the 2013 season in a horrible rut. He bottomed out with a .163 batting average April 29 and a 20-game hitting streak between May 17 and June 11 raised his average to .284, but he is now back down to .265 with just six home runs and 46 RBIs.
Those aren’t horrible numbers and were good enough when the Cardinals did not have a replacement infielder outside of the .255-hitting Daniel Descalso, who also has a paltry .310 on-base percentage.
However, Freese also has a -0.4 Wins Above Replacement value, meaning he has played slightly worse than would be expected from a typical third baseman, and the Cardinals now have a replacement, although he comes in the form of a second baseman.
With Wong getting regular playing time at second, regular second baseman Matt Carpenter has had to move elsewhere. At first, Carpenter got a needed day off, but Matheny has continued to put Wong in the starting lineup so Carpenter has moved to his original position at third base and Freese has moved to the bench.
Freese isn’t buried on the bench, however. Matheny has given other regular starters extended time off throughout the season. He sat center fielder Jon Jay for several consecutive days in April and early May when he was struggling to fix his swing, and shortstop Pete Kozma didn’t play for several days in a row in late July and August when he went in an extended slump at the plate.
But a long-term view of the Cardinals infield suggests Freese could be the odd man out if Wong takes the starting job as second baseman and Carpenter becomes the everyday third baseman.
Carpenter plays solid defense and occasionally replaced Freese late in games in 2012 because Matheny wanted a stronger defensive player at that position in the late innings. Plus, Carpenter has hit .312 with 61 RBIs and has a WAR value of 5.1.
More than anything, the Cardinals figure to get more consistent production with Wong and Carpenter in the lineup than Freese, who has always been a streaky hitter.
Yes, he hit .390 in the 2011 postseason and was the Most Valuable Player in the National League Championship Series and World Series that year, but his batting average had also dropped from .326 to .297 in the six weeks that led up to the playoffs.
Instead of the everyday third baseman, Freese could take on the role Adams has for the Cardinals throughout the season. Adams has played in the field in just 46 of the 76 games he has played in during the 2013 season, but he has hit .277 with nine home runs and 34 RBIs while primarily coming off the bench.
Freese has some power and could give the Cardinals a reliable right-handed pinch hitter, which has been a lacking aspect of the team for much of the season.
Freese is a good player, but his value to the Cardinals might be higher in the late innings off the bench than throughout an entire game at third base.