The Pittsburgh Pirates announced that they have signed third baseman David Freese to a one-year contract worth $3M. Pitcher Jesse Biddle has been designated for assignment to make room for him on the 40-man roster. The 32-year-old Freese spent last season with the Los Angeles Angels, where he hit .257/.323/.420 in 121 games.
Freese took quite a pay cut to sign with the Pirates (he made $6.425M last year), but that’s not unusual for someone signing this far into Spring Training. He will get the Opening Day nod for the Pirates at third base, which will allow the team to take a cautious approach with Jung-ho Kang’s return. Recent quotes have Kang returning mid-to-late April. Reports from yesterday on his progress were strong, with an extended infield practice, with throws to both bases, as well as work in the batting cages off live pitching.
Freese had his best season in 2012, when he was an All-Star for the St Louis Cardinals. He posted a career-best .839 OPS that year, but his stats haven’t been near that level in the three seasons since. After a .721 OPS for the Cardinals in 2013, he posted a combined .723 OPS in two seasons with the Angels. That 2012 season was also his best year defensively according to dWAR (0.5), and he’s been slightly below average since then.
Biddle is going to miss the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery, so it’s very possible the Pirates could get him through waivers and keep him on the minor league disabled list all season. His prospect status was falling before the injury, though he was battling through injuries during the 2015 season. The Pirates acquired the 24-year-old lefty for a minor league reliever, so if they do lose him on waivers, the cost was minimal.
UPDATE 7:22 PM: Update from Tim Williams…
I just spoke with Neal Huntington about the move, and the fallout with the rest of the roster. Here is the transcript:
What is Freese’s role on the team?
“David comes in obviously as an established veteran Major League right-handed bat that can jump right in at third base for the time that Kang is out of action. Provides us with a quality option on those days where Kang may need a day over the course of a season, as he returns to full health, and we work to keep hitters strong for the entire season. Once Kang returns, our process is David can slide across and be the right-handed part of the first base platoon. He’s played a little bit of first base in the past. We do anticipate that he’ll be able to make that transition over there. And then obviously he’s available if Kang does take longer than we expect. If it’s longer than late-to-mid April, we’ve got an incredible insurance policy there. He’s a veteran right-handed bat that’s been a winner, that’s been on championship calibre clubs, and wants to be a Pirate. Wants to join this group and help them take that next step forward.”
What happens to Morse and Rogers when Kang returns?
“Out of Spring Training, the anticipation is that Kang will be on the DL, Freese will be at third, Morse will be in that right-handed platoon situation. As we move forward, we’ll see how the club comes together. Morse is absolutely still in the picture immediately, and could be longer-term. Jason Rogers and the other guys are in competition to make the club. There’s still a couple of open spots on that bench out of Spring Training. Once everybody gets healthy, that obviously gets squeezed a little bit, and we’ll have a decision to make by then. But you and I both know that something else will pop up between now and then, and opportunities will exist elsewhere.”
Is there something they saw in camp (Jason Rogers at 3B, Alen Hanson at 2B) that led to this signing?
“No. This has been an ongoing conversation, and we finally found that common middle ground. That common financial middle ground that we talk about. We like a lot of what we’ve seen out of Alen. We like what we’ve seen out of Jason. We just felt with where we are in the win curve, this is a good short-term driven move for us and gives us an established Major League third baseman to come in and play the position early. We still like Jason, still feel that he’s going to help us this year, and still believe Alen has a great Major League future. But again, with where we are on the win curve, this was an awfully tough situation for us to pass up. We felt good about it, and felt like David is a very good addition to our club, not only in the short-term, but also over the course of the season.”
Can the team carry Morse and Rogers off the bench without sacrificing too much defense?
“We’ll have to see exactly where we are once Kang gets healthy. Out of the gate, we can absolutely carry both, because one can be the right-handed option at first base. And we do like what we’ve seen out of Jason at third base, and feel like he can fill a role there. We just felt like David Freese made us better, in the short-term and over the course of a season. Once Kang gets healthy, we’ll have to see where everybody else is health wise, the configuration of the bench, who is playing well, who is healthy, and who fits, and we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. Out of the gate, certainly, we feel like both of those guys will make the club. You could still see Goebbert, you could still see Cole Figueroa, Matt Joyce, Florimon. Alen Hanson could even fit in that role, depending upon the configuration of that bench, and what we want to take north and the options that Clint’s looking for to put himself in position to have the weapons off the bench to win some games, and also provide our guys with chances to catch their breath and stay strong.”
When do they expect Kang to return?
“We’re still late-to-mid April. And that hasn’t changed at all. There really hasn’t been anything in Spring Training that we’ve seen out of Kang, or in the other question Hanson or Rogers, that prompted us to make this move. This is just a move where we are in the win curve, and the protection it brings us, the quality veteran Major Leaguer that it brings us. We felt like it was the right move to make. Kang, we’re still projecting mid-to-late April. He wants to come back earlier. If he comes back mid-to-late April, then we’ve had David Freese at third base for a good chunk of time. If there’s a setback, then we’ve got an established Major League ready third baseman ready to step in for a longer period of time.”