The Angels traded oft-injured Peter Bourjos to the St. Louis Cardinals on Friday for third baseman and former World Series most valuable player David Freese, freeing up center field for Mike Trout and right field for Kole Calhoun and allowing Josh Hamilton to return to left field.
The Angels also acquired reliever Fernando Salas, a 28-year-old right-hander who had 24 saves for St. Louis in 2011, and sent double-A outfielder Randal Grichuk, a first-round pick in 2009, to the Cardinals.
“Sometimes you deal from an area of strength to fill an area of weakness,” Angels General Manager Jerry Dipoto said. “We’re a more complete and balanced team with David than we were before this move.”
Freese, 30, will try to bounce back from a year in which he hit .262 with a .340 on-base percentage, .381 slugging percentage, nine homers and 60 runs batted in and was often removed in the late innings for defensive purposes. He also struggled in the postseason, hitting .179 (10 for 56).
“To be honest, I have a huge chip on my shoulder — whether I was a Cardinal or an Angel, it didn’t matter,” said Freese, who was slowed by a back strain sustained in April. “I’m just extremely focused and ready to get to spring training.”
Freese, a St. Louis native, had a .293/.372/.467 line with 20 homers and 79 RBIs in 2012. He was a postseason hero in 2011, hitting .397 (25 for 63) with five homers and 21 RBIs and winning National League Championship Series and World Series MVP honors during the Cardinals’ run to the title.
That subject came up Friday in a text-message exchange between Freese and Angels first baseman Albert Pujols, a 2011 Cardinals teammate.
“He welcomed me to the Angels family and I said, ‘Remember what we did the last time we played together? Let’s try to do that again,’” Freese said. “It’s going to be good to get back with him and the rest of those guys. They’re going to want to rebound and get after it from day one.”
Freese, projected to make $4.4 million in his second year of arbitration, should be an upgrade for the Angels, whose third basemen ranked 27th in baseball with a .637 OPS (on-base plus slugging) and hit eight homers last season. Only Miami, with three, got fewer homers from the position.
“Third base was a question mark, and this provides a more than acceptable solution,” Dipoto said. “David knows how to drive in the important runs. That’s something that really fits our lineup.”
Dipoto thought so highly of Bourjos, 26, that he cleared a spot for him last winter by letting Torii Hunter leave as a free agent and trading designated hitter Kendrys Morales to Seattle.
Bourjos hit .313 with a .370 OBP before suffering a strained left hamstring on April 29 and missing seven weeks. He hit .370 with a .431 OBP in 18 June games before getting hit by a pitch on June 29, breaking a bone in his right wrist and missing 1 1/2 months.
Bourjos returned in mid-August but hit .109 in 15 games before being shut down in early September and undergoing surgery to have a pin inserted in the wrist.
“It didn’t play out the way we or Peter hoped,” Dipoto said. “This gives him a chance to play.”
Bourjos had a breakout 2011, hitting .271 with 12 homers, 11 triples, 26 doubles and several highlight-reel defensive plays, but he struggled in April 2012 and lost his job to Trout.
“In the end, it’s probably best to get a fresh start somewhere else,” Bourjos said. “I had a good year in 2011, but things didn’t work out after that.”
The Angels expect Salas, 6-13 with a 3.42 earned-run average in parts of four big league seasons, to compete for a middle-relief spot. Grichuk, 22, hit .256 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs for double-A Arkansas and won a minor league Gold Glove Award in right field.