If I told you that David Freese has been just as productive and valuable as Adrian Beltre this season, would you believe me? After all, many consider Beltre as the gold standard at 3rd base, and he remains a solid choice to defend his AL Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. Beltre currently boasts a line of .304/.341/.489/.830 with 19 HR and 64 RBI along with some great defense at the hot corner. Freese’s numbers (.300/.366/.476/.834 with 15 HR and 64 RBI) align quite nicely with his career marks, but his improved defense has provided a lot of value as well. While Beltre has given the Rangers 2.6 oWAR and 0.3 dWAR, Freese has given the Cardinals 2.4 oWAR and 0.6 dWAR.
One of these players signed a 5 yr / $80M deal for 2011-2015, and the other is David Freese. See where this is going? If you converted Freese’s contribution to a dollar figure, his 2012 season would be worth around $13-14M. That doesn’t mean he’s worth that in terms of a salary, but it approximates the cost of replacing his production based on what similar players make on the free agent market. Naturally, I’m not advocating that the team throw a Beltre-like deal at Freese. The point of comparing the 2 was to demonstrate the kind of value that Freese has provided in his final pre-arbitration year. More importantly, the numbers provide some perspective about the cost of replacing both Freese and his production.
To provide even more perspective, it is worth considering that Beltre earns a base salary of $15M for 2012. Freese gets $508k for his work. Granted, Beltre started this year with 14 seasons under his belt, and he turned 33 in April. Freese turned 29 at the beginning of the season, and he’s finally closing in on arbitration eligibility. That said, maybe the time has arrived for the Cardinals to lock Freese up for a number of years. The timing could not be much better for both sides. Freese finds himself in the middle of a career year after going from “potential star” to MVP on baseball’s biggest stage. As for the Cardinals, they could potentially buyout Freese’s arbitration years and the first few years of free agency at a slight or even significant discount.
Would something in the neighborhood of Jaime Garcia‘s 4 years / $27M with 2 team options be a good ballpark for a Freese extension? That would put Freese under team control through his age 35 season. Given his injury history and lack of organizational depth at his position, the risk for both sides may nearly even out. More importantly, something like $27M over the next 4 years would not handicap the team in terms of payroll flexibility. Of all the guys set to hit either arbitration or free agency after this season, Freese might represent the hardest call. The team could go into negotiations before arbitration with Freese and come to a 1 year deal, but then they risk him having another great season next year. The price tag by the end of his arbitration eligibility could go into the $10M a season range. Using that number as the floor for his free agent years could make him awfully pricey for a team on a mid-sized budget. Putting Freese on lock down comes with inherent risks, but the potential benefit may outweigh those risks.
I wouldn’t argue against a “wait and see” approach, but time is money. In this case, time could mean a whole lot of money.
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