BOSTON -- The Angels caught some heat on Nov. 22, 2013, when they sent center fielder Peter Bourjos and prospect outfielder Randal Grichuk to the Cardinals in exchange for third baseman David Freese and reliever Fernando Salas. They were giving up three years of control with Bourjos and a multi-skilled young player in Grichuk, while taking on nearly $5 million in salary for two players coming off tough seasons.
The immediate returns have been quite favorable, however.
While Grichuk has been stuck in Triple-A and Bourjos has struggled through inconsistent playing time in the big leagues, the Angels have been reaping the benefits from Freese and Salas lately.
Freese has batted .292/.363/.421 since the start of June, displaying enough power to prompt Mike Scioscia to move him to the No. 6 spot in the lineup for Wednesday's game against the Red Sox. Salas has retired 27 of 29 batters in August, striking out 12 to drop his ERA to 2.49.
"We knew the importance of what those guys needed to bring when the trade was made," Scioscia said. "We've seen David Freese get more and more comfortable. He's making the routine plays on the defensive end, and on the offensive end, especially the last month, it looks like he's attacking the ball the way he can. … Over the long haul, if you look at what Fernando has done, he's been a really key component to our 'pen."
Salas, 29 and with a contract under the control of the Angels for three more years, had a 2.28 ERA, a 0.95 WHIP and a 3.57 strikeout-to-walk rate in 68 appearances for the Cardinals in 2011. The following year, his ERA jumped to 4.30, his WHIP rose to 1.42 and his strikeout-to-walk rate fell to 2.22. And in 2013, Salas basically split time between the Majors and the Minors, posting a 1.90 ERA in 22 appearances in Triple-A and a 4.50 ERA in 27 appearances with St. Louis.
"I stopped believing in myself a bit during that time, simply because the results weren't there [in the big leagues]," Salas said in Spanish. "But I just kept working. Every game gives you a little more confidence. It just comes to a point where you have to stop thinking about what went wrong and just try to do the best you can moving forward, and just go day by day. I think that's been key for me."
Freese has had experience with that method of thinking the last couple of years.
In 2013, he batted .209 through his first 27 games, then went on a 20-game hitting streak that lifted his batting average by 78 points and somewhat salvaged his season. In 2014, Freese ended May with a .203/.262/.273 slash line, but now finds himself hitting a more respectable .259/.326/.366 -- a mark that may be trending upward and could save him from being non-tendered this offseason.
Asked if changing leagues played a factor in his early struggles, Freese said, "I don't even really know. It was probably just a bunch of things. Who knows? But now, I'm just able to relax. You have that confidence. And just play the game hard. If you're healthy, things will work out. I don't know exactly what was going on the first couple of months."