The Pittsburgh Pirates had a disappointing 2016 season. As the off-season begins, it is time to grade out the club. Today we look at David Freese, arguably the best bargain free agent signing for the Pirates last off-season.
One of, if not the best free agent signing for the Pirates this past off-season was David Freese. His signing was kind of out of the blue, and came right before the regular season, in part because the team would be without Jung Ho Kang for at least the first month of the season. Freese signed for just $3 million, far less than he expected, but one heck of a bargain for the Pirates. He was immediately plugged in as the starter at first base, and would eventually switch off between third and first when Kang returned.
Freese would sign a two-year, $11 million extension during the season, which at the time seemed like another bargain. Freese slipped up towards the end of the season, but this deal still seems pretty good, even if Freese just plays a bench role in the next few seasons.
The Pirates were pretty hit-and-miss with their deals this off-season, and Freese was certainly a hit.
What a Bargain
Freese made a name for himself in the 2011 World Series with the Cardinals, but that was also his breakout year. From then up through the 2015 season, Freese was consistent with his offensive production, which was always above-average. That’s why it was so surprising when Freese was left on the market by spring of 2016 when he fell into the Pirates’ lap.
The one-year, $3 million deal he signed was a great bargain. This is a little surprising as the bargains for the Pirates are typically free agent pitchers rather than hitters, but they seemed to strike well on the opposite on this past season (Freese, Sean Rodriguez, Matt Joyce).
Freese ended the season with a 1.9 WAR. Depending on who you ask, a win for a player is worth anywhere from $4 to $6 million. Thus, Freese was probably worth upwards of $8 million last season. That’s a great deal for the Pirates.
The Pirates love players with positional flexibility. Freese isn’t a utility player like Josh Harrison, but his ability to play both third and first base proved to be valuable last season. Not only did it give the lineup flexibility, but his quality offensive production meant that the Pirates didn’t miss a beat throughout the season when either third or first needed a fill-in.
Kang was out to start the season. Freese was plugged right into first. When Kang came back, and John Jaso wasn’t the ideal first at first the Pirates envisioned, Freese moved over to first. When Josh Bell came up, Freese was valuable off the bench. And when the rookie struggled defensively or needed a day off, Freese was there.
Having someone for the next few years that can step right in and produce offensively at third or first is very important for this team moving forward. If Bell doesn’t improve defensively next season, or if Andrew McCutchen gets traded and Bell gets time in the outfield, the Pirates know Freese can fill in at if need be.
Here to Stay
In a move that took some by surprise, Freese was signed to a two-year, $11 million deal (with a club option in 2019) in the middle of the season. It was a great deal at the time, and still looks good now. Freese has been remarkably consistent since he became a regular in 2011. He’s hit at least nine home runs, drove in at least 55 RBIs, and batted at least .257 in each season since 2011. You know what you’re getting with Freese.
The next two seasons he’ll make an average of $5.5 million per season. Freese will need to be at least a one-win player to be worth that deal. According to Fangraphs, he’s been worth at least 1.9 WAR each season but one since then, so it’s a good bet that he’ll provide some surplus value on this deal.
Of course, age could catch up with him, but his play hasn’t dropped off since he became a regular in the bigs, so I wouldn’t bet against him.
Conclusion and Final Grade
David Freese was one of the bright spots for the Pirates in 2016. He wasn’t a star player, but he was consistent in his above-average offensive production and could play well defensively at third and first. He was there to fill in when the Pirates needed him, and was a valuable player as a starter or as a bench player.
It’s important to evaluate players based on their roles. Freese should be graded based on his role as a bench player and part-time starter, and whether he did that job well. And he did. His strikeouts did reach a career-high, and he did slump for a while after he signed an extension, but with his quality production in the role he had, Freese deserves an B+ for this past season.
What Grade would you give David Freese?
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Our grade drops at noon, but what grade would YOU give David Freese for 2016?
— Pirates Breakdown (@pbcbreakdown) November 10, 2016
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