The Miami Marlins are considering plenty of names for trade, but some of them are more attractive than others. While long-term options are the name of the game for Miami, the Fish have come up as a team considering their options with deposed Cardinals third baseman David Freese. Freese had a terrible 2013 season following a preseason injury and lost his hold on the starting lineup to Cardinals prospect Kolten Wong.
There is good in David Freese. Before all that injury nonsense, he was a very good player. In 2012, he hit .293/.372/.467 (.365 wOBA) with 20 home runs in 567 plate appearances. Prior to that, he spent parts of two seasons being a better-than-average player and doing a passable job at third base. The Cardinals were having a hard time fitting him in the lineup regularly, but they finally did so in 2012 to great success. He put up a four-win season that year. Oh, and he is a former World Series MVP following a spectacular 2011 playoff run in which he belted five homers and hit .397/.465/.794 in three series.
But that 2012 heyday seems long gone after an ugly 2013. Freese struggled when he returned to the lineup and never really got his groove back entirely. His first-half and second-half numbers at the plate were almost identical, indicating that his season was just bad overall rather than terrible at a specific time. Overall, he hit just .262/.340/.381 (.322 wOBA) and had a horrific year on the defensive side as well. Three major defensive metrics all had him at over 14 runs worse than average last year in diminished playing time, and that could have been due to the early low back strain that caused him to miss some playing time and the beginning of the season.
But look at that batting line again and compare it to what Marlins third basemen hit last season. As a unit, Miami third basemen hit .248/.315/.300, worse than any team in baseball. Even if Freese never regained the form he had from 2010 to 2012, the Marlins would still be improving over a tattered group in a major way. Ed Lucas, Donovan Solano, Derek Dietrich, or any number of short solutions like Placido Polanco from last season would not come close to producing the league average hitting that Freese gave last year. One has to figure that Freese could provide Miami at least 15 runs more than the average production of the third baseman expected to play in 2014.
Combine that with a decently healthy return on the defensive side and Freese could add at least two wins to Miami next season. And as we discussed with players like Howie Kendrick, adding wins next year is not a bad idea, if only to get climb a bit closer to respectability and to convince current players that the franchise is interested in investing in the present. Adding a player like Freese could help the cause of keeping players like Giancarlo Stanton around long-term.
Then again, like Kendrick, the addition of Freese would be a very short-term solution. Freese is in the second year of arbitration and is eligible to be a free agent in 2016. He is expected to make about $4.4 million in 2014 and is very likely to at least make $6 million next year if he plays anywhere close to his 2012 numbers. More importantly, the Fish would only have two seasons of team control left in Freese, and the franchise has said that it wants to focus on cost-controlled solutions.
Beyond that, this is not a situation like at second base with a potential Howie Kendrick acquisition. The Marlins do not have great options at second base in the near future, though Derek Dietrich provides the most potential at the position. On the other hand, the Marlins do have a top prospect waiting in the wings at third base, with 2013 first-round pick Colin Moran potentially ready by the middle of 2015. That would be Freese's last season, but it would also mean that the Marlins have at least half a year in which they may have a redundant, more expensive player.
Ultimately, however, it would depend on the value the team sees in Freese. What kind of trade value are we talking about?
Freese is projected next season to hit a respectable .275/..349/.420 (.339 wOBA) with 13 home runs in 535 plate appearances. His line drive approach and dependence on BABIP (career .347 BABIP) should play well in Marlins Park and its large gaps. The batting line should remain similar given a likely drop in some home runs with a potential increase in doubles. Combined with a decent (but negative) expected performance at third base, Steamer projects a 2.3-win season for Freese in 2013.
Assuming a drop-off in 2014, Freese could provide the Marlins 4.1 wins in the next two seasons. Given his arbitration salaries, we could expect $10-11 million in surplus or trade value from Freese. That puts him close to the value of Mark Trumbo as we discussed a few days ago. That means a similar offer would be able to snag Freese according to this projection. The Marlins would have to offer maybe a mid-level pitching prospect and change to pick up Freese off of the Cardinals' hands.
The problem with this and the reason why Freese is not a good target for this team is that the Cardinals have no need for starting pitching. If the Marlins are going to make a trade, it would have to be with starting pitching as the bait, but the Cardinals are so deep in starters that they are considering trading one of their decent back-end options for help at other positions. So the Marlins have zero tools to entice St. Louis into a deal at this scale. This is unlike the situation with Kendrick and the Los Angeles Angels, who have a definite need in pitching.
While Freese is not a terrible pickup for the Marlins, the trade fit does not seem to work out. And with the Angels and Cardinals discussing a potential Freese trade, Miami should probably look elsewhere to fill in their short-term third base needs.