New Pirates infielder Freese appreciates baseball after waiting for contract
BRADENTON, Fla. — David Freese does not watch much MLB Network during the offseason. But as training camps began, as weeks wore on and exhibition games started, Freese found himself glued to his television more and more. He battled impatience. He was anxious to find work.
Freese watched as third base jobs were filled. He watched as the game continues to trend younger.
The 32-year-old waited despite owning a resume that includes being the 2011 World Series and NLCS MVP and being a hitter with a .276 average and .761 OPS over seven major league seasons.
The Pirates and Freese’s agent reached an agreement Friday after Freese hopped on a 5:30 a.m. flight and traveled to Bradenton, Fla., for a workout. A one-year, $3 million deal was finalized later in the day.
“I’m not good at trying to control stuff you can’t control, so I think God said, ‘Here you go. We’ll give you this.’ It was a tough situation to handle,” said Freese, who was introduced to the media Saturday morning. “The waiting, it challenges your heart. Sitting around while guys are out playing … seeing games, seeing guys in the field, it makes you appreciate the game a lot more.”
Freese is the most prominent player drafted and developed by the St. Louis Cardinals to join the Pirates since Matt Morris was traded to Pittsburgh in 2007. The Pirates are hoping for a better result.
While Freese needed the Pirates, the Pirates also need Freese.
Third baseman Jung Ho Kang is set to begin the season on the disabled list, and before Freese’s arrival, the Pirates’ internal options to fill the void were utility players or untested prospects.
Freese helps bridge the gap until Kang returns, though with his prime years behind him, Freese probably is unlikely to return to his 2011-12 peak form while with the Cardinals.
When Kang does return, Freese also could be an upgrade as part of a first-base platoon with John Jaso. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said Freese could “share time” with Jaso, perhaps making Michael Morse expendable or at least moving him down the depth chart.
“It could play in that direction if he shows the aptitude and ability to play first base,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Freese’s addition also could mean Jason Rogers, who has options, begins the season in the minors.
“When (Kang) gets back, he’ll be the third baseman,” Freese said. “And I’m all for it.”
Freese has played only 21 innings at first base in his career and none since 2011, but he has been taking groundballs at first in St. Louis, where he lives in the offseason.
“I don’t know what my role will be. … I know I brought a (first base) mitt, so we’ll get some work on first over there pretty quickly, I think,” Freese said. “I learned playing for Tony (La Russa) that I don’t have the lineup card. There were days I’d go in there and say, ‘Why am I not playing?’ He’d say, ‘You want my office?’ That didn’t end very well. I get it. I understand it.
“Whatever my role is, I’m here to do that. If it’s to play third, play first, pinch-hit, I’m all for it.”
Said Hurdle: “He’s been an offensive player. He fills an immediate need at third base, and then we’ll see where we go once Kang returns. He’s hungry. He has an edge. He’s done some significant things.”
Freese was not sure when he would begin to play in spring games but said he’s “ready” and “feels good.”
Freese is happy to be returning to the National League Central. Following the 2013 season, the Cardinals traded Freese to the Anaheim Angels and replaced him at third base with a younger, cheaper and more productive alternative in Matt Carpenter.
Freese noted he was with the Cardinals when the seats at PNC Park “started filling up.”
“It’s a different sound (at PNC Park) … when the place is roaring,” Freese said. “The way these guys play, they won 98 games last year, how do you not want to be part of that?”