The answer might be that the perception of Bourjos is greater than the reality.
Bourjos, 26, has appeared in only 156 games the past two seasons, producing only a combined .659 OPS while dealing with a hamstring injury and a wrist problem that eventually required surgery.
Freese, 30, was more productive over that period, even though he regressed last season, struggling in particular in April (after missing time with a strained lower back) and then again in the postseason.
Add it all up, and the move became almost a necessity from the Angels' perspective, according to sources with knowledge of the team's thinking.
The Angels' biggest need is starting pitching, but they also had a vacancy at third base. Bourjos did not have enough value to bring them a controllable starter. Some of the teams that liked him in the past no longer had a need. Others, like the Phillies, did not have enough to offer.
Meanwhile, the free-agent market at third base is extremely thin. Freese projects to earn $4.4 million in his second year of arbitration, according to Matt Swartz of MLBTradeRumors.com. The Angels could have signed Eric Chavez, soon to be 36, for say, $2.5 million to $4 million. But they preferred the potential for a bounce-back season from Freese, who had an .839 OPS in 2012.
Bourjos, projected to earn only $1.1 million in his first year of arbitration, is more affordable than Freese, and comes with an additional year of club control. But the Cardinals apparently took the position that he wasn't all that accomplished, prompting the Angels to include Grichuk in the deal.
Grichuk, 22, hit 22 homers and had a .780 OPS at Double-A Arkansas last season despite playing in a pitcher-friendly league and pitcher-friendly park. He is a good defender with a strong arm, but his plate discipline could limit his major league potential – in 542 plate appearances last season, he drew only 28 walks.
Salas, 28, will at least add to the Angels' bullpen depth – he was sort of an odd man out for the Cardinals last season, but has averaged nearly a strikeout per inning in the majors. The ‘pen, in fact, could develop into a strength – the Angels are in agreement with free-agent righty Joe Smith on a three-year, $15.75 million contract, pending a physical.
Did the Angels get robbed in the Freese deal? Time will tell. But they had their reasons. Teams always have their reasons, no matter how questionable a trade might appear.