With all due respect to part-time superstar Matt Joyce, after having had the pleasure to watch David Freese up close this season, I believe that he is the Pirates’ most important player to re-sign in free agency this offseason.
When the Pirates signed Freese late (very late) into Spring Training, I was pleased to get his steady workmanlike production. I believed he would hold down the fort while Jung-ho Kang was recovering from his knee and tibia injuries and then help bolster a solid bench. Not only did he do that, but he also got off to a fantastic start with the bat in April (.293/.387/.402) and provided Gold Glove-caliber defense at the hot corner. All for the low, low end of Spring Training-everything must go price of $3M.
When Kang returned in May, Freese still kept hitting, both while playing 3B but also 1B occasionally, too. He’s been an excellent component of the 1B situation, especially now that John Jaso is enduring a rather nasty slump (609 OPS in June, 544 in July) and Freese has been playing more and more there.
I think he’s taking well to 1B, as evidenced by this play against the Mariners this week:
From Freese’s angle, he’s rebuilt his value this year that took a hit after a so-so 2015 with the Angels. He’s going to be age-34 for the 2017, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility for him to get a 3-year deal for that one last cash-in on the free agent market. Freese has gone year to year every year of his career. Maybe he’s looking for some stability at this point.
It’s hard to see the Pirates offering him a three-year deal, as they have Kang set at 3B (I’ll loop back to that in a second) and potentially the switch-hitting uber-offensive prospect Josh Bell at 1B for the foreseeable future. But both of those players have question marks surrounding them. Kang’s sexual assault case is still dangling in the air, although there is talk that the alleged victim is no longer cooperating with police. If Kang is charged and found guilty, the image-conscious Pirates will probably move to sever ties with him. And as for Bell, if he is unable to master the defensive chops of 1B, he may not be able to be counted on by the Pirates. Enter the need for Freese.
I would sign Freese for $7-8M/year, probably on a 2 year deal with an option for a third year. The problem is, much like with JA Happ last offseason, that some team may be willing to offer that guaranteed third year. Especially with the pickings being so slim on the free agent market for 3B this offseason. Even if Kang and Bell are good to go at 3B and 1B next year, Freese would be great insurance at both positions. The Pirates would have to move John Jaso, but that shouldn’t be too difficult.
Mark Melancon? Important, but the Pirates have replacements on hand. Matt Joyce? Immensely handy this season, but the Pirates can find a good 4th OF again. Neftali Feliz? I’d love to have him back, but I trust the Pirates to build a bullpen year to year.
For me, David Freese is the Pirate free agent that has to be on top of Neal Huntington’s to-do list.