Since joining the team before the 2016 season, David Freese has been a valuable and steady member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. With a slight resurgence lately, what are the team’s plans for him in 2018 and beyond?
While he may not be the same player who thrilled the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals with his heroics in Game Six of the 2011 World Series that would eventually lead to him earning MVP honors in that year’s Fall Classic, David Freese still has some gas left in the tank. He is on pace to have a very respectable line at the end of the season and will definitely be in the mix for playing time in 2018, but the unknown is exactly how much playing time given that others will be vying for innings around the infield as well.
Since August 1st, Freese is slashing .277/.344/.384 in 125 plate appearances. Of his 31 hits, six have gone for extra bases and three of those have gone over the fence. His wRC+ of 93 puts him just under league average in this period, but some of that is because of the 28.8 strikeout percentage he has had in that time frame. For the season his wRC+ is 103 and his strikeout percentage is 22.7 which are both around his career averages.
In general Freese is putting up very respectable numbers this season. His walk percentage sits at 12.4 which would be the highest of his career (he only had one previous season when that number was higher than 10, and that was 10.1 in 2012). His strikeout percentage is also trending in the right direction, down to the previously mentioned 22.7 which is an improvement on the 28.9 he had last year. His performance at the plate this year has his walk to strikeout ratio currently at .54 which would best his career high of .47 that he set in 2012.
However, Freese may be forced into a part time or bench role in 2018. With reports that the Pirates have been successful in getting Jung Ho Kang added to the Aguilas Cibaenas roster in the Dominican Republic so that he can get some reps during Winter Ball season, the team is optimistic that Kang will be part of the 2018 roster. It is far from a guarantee, which makes having someone like Freese on the roster even more important. But if Kang does rejoin the team next year, it is probably safe to assume that he will see the bulk of the playing time at third base.
Last season Freese played at all of the infield positions except shortstop. He totaled just five innings at second base along with 341.1 at first base (a career high for that position) and 625.2 at his native position of third base. This year, due to Josh Bell’s emergence and the occasional starts by John Jaso and Jose Osuna, Freese has logged just 15 innings at first. Even though Jaso will not be with the club next year, it appears that the bulk of the innings at first base in 2018 will belong to Bell, and rightfully so. And considering that Osuna has been taking reps at third base, Freese may have additional competition for playing time at the hot corner.
Between the team’s optimism that Kang will return and Osuna’s newly gained experience at third, both players represent potential obstacles to Freese gaining more playing time. But the team also has Josh Harrison who could easily move back to third if the team decides to use someone else at second base. Adam Frazier or even a long shot like Max Moroff could be in the mix for playing time at second base. There are clearly a lot of moving parts in the infield heading into next season and the team still has many months before they have to make any type of decision.
But Freese has been a great bargain since joining the Pirates. He put up 1.8 WAR in 2016 and is at 1.7 so far this season. Considering that he was paid $3 million last year and $6.2 million this year, the team is getting a pretty good return on their investment so far. He’ll make $4.2 million in 2018 and the team holds a $6 million option with a $500,000 buyout for 2019. At the rate he has been playing, the team will have to strongly consider keeping him around when the option kicks in. So even if Freese is forced into a part time role with the club next year and beyond, there is a good chance that he can be worth the salary that the team is paying him.
There are also the intangibles that a player like Freese brings to a club. Sure, the team has plenty of veterans that can lead the team, especially if Andrew McCutchen’s option is picked up. But Freese, after his years in St. Louis, has the postseason experience that any club would benefit from having on their roster. The 2017 season will go down as a disappointment, but the team has plenty of pieces in place that could make them a contender next year. Having a player such as Freese on the roster, even though his playing time may be cut into by some of the younger guys, is certainly a positive in the clubhouse and in the dugout.