The day after David Freese signed with the Pirates, he joined his new teammates in Spring Training for a round of batting practice at McKechnie Field, while the rest of the team was on the road for that afternoon’s game. I decided to stick around at McKechnie, getting some photos of Freese, and watching his batting practice session, before heading over to Pirate City.
At one point, they asked Freese how many more rounds he wanted to go. Freese asked the group — which included Andrew McCutchen, Gregory Polanco, Starling Marte, and Jung Ho Kang — how many rounds of batting practice they usually took.
“As many as you need,” McCutchen replied. “Today is all about you.”
Freese hadn’t even been a member of the organization for 24 hours and was in his first day of practice, and the best players on the team had not only already opened up, but made sure that he got in the work he needed, due to his late start. He was instantly welcomed, and it was like he was always a member of the team. So when he made this comment to reporters this afternoon after signing his extension, I knew he meant it:
“I feel valued here,” Freese said. “I feel like these guys want me here. That’s huge. I’ve heard it before, but there’s something different about the way Neal [Huntington], Clint [Hurdle] and all the guy went about bringing me back. They want me here. I know that. It’s a good feeling.”
Alan Saunders wrote more today about how Freese wanted to remain in Pittsburgh, and why he was a fit for the Pirates for an extension. Tonight, I wanted to focus a little more on what the future of the Pirates’ roster looks like after Freese’s extension, with a specific look at the 2017 bench.
There’s not really much that the Pirates need for 2017. A lot of their current players will be under contract for next season, and Freese just adds to that group.
“It’s all part of our organizational plan,” Hurdle said. “Neal has really strong vision in what he looks to do with our roster. You look at the players that have been added — just within this season — to multi-year contracts for stability, for continuity and for consistency.”
The Pirates have extended Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco, and now Freese just this year. If you consider Josh Bell the starting first baseman going forward, then all of their position players are under team control through at least 2018. They’ve got three young starters under team control through at least 2019 in Gerrit Cole, Jameson Taillon, and Chad Kuhl. They also have a lot of younger pitching prospects who are MLB ready, or close to it. You could also throw Drew Hutchison in that mix, as he will be under control through 2019, and the Pirates are planning on him being in their rotation next year. The big need next year would be another top starting pitcher, but that’s about it from the offense and rotation.
With the Freese extension, the bench is now looking solid for the next few years as well. Neal Huntington discussed today about how the lack of third base options on the trade and free agent market, plus the lack of internal MLB-ready options at the position, led to the signing of Freese. He said the potential legal issues for Jung Ho Kang didn’t play a role here. While there’s nothing known on Kang’s status, Freese puts the Pirates in a good situation. They either have a guy who can start at third base if needed, or they have a great option off the bench who can back up the corner spots.
Freese joins Chris Stewart, Adam Frazier, and John Jaso as guys who currently have the inside track for bench spots in 2017. I could see Jaso getting moved this off-season, as the Pirates wouldn’t have as much need for him, especially with an additional first base option in Jason Rogers. The other realistic candidates for the bench would be Alen Hanson and Max Moroff, with Hanson seemingly being groomed already for a super utility role.
Alen Hanson in LF tonight as he continues to move around. Last 16 games: LF, 2B, 3B, 2B, LF, 3B, 2B, 3B, 2B, 3B, LF, 2B, LF, 2B, 3B, LF, 2B.
— Brian Peloza (@BrianPeloza) August 22, 2016
With the exception of Jaso, if he sticks around, the rest of those guys are under team control through at least the 2018 season. And only Stewart is under control through 2018, with Elias Diaz ready to take over after that. So with the extension of Freese, the Pirates now have a solid bench to go with their strong group of position players and strong core of young pitchers, with that entire group under control through the next two years, and many of them under control beyond that.
After the deadline, I estimated that the Pirates would be at around $80 M heading into next off-season, with anticipated arbitration moves and raises. The Freese move takes that up to around $86-87 M, and also locks up another hole on the team. From here, the Pirates don’t have many more needs, with an additional starting pitcher being the biggest one with the remaining money they have to spend.
When Neal Huntington originally signed Freese, he said that it was like adding at the trade deadline, but much earlier. In this case, the Pirates just made an off-season move, but well before the off-season begins. And because they also did that with Francisco Cervelli, and at the trade deadline with Felipe Rivero and Drew Hutchison, we could be in line for a very quiet, but also a very specific off-season plan for the Pirates, with so few needs remaining.
**Pirates Announce Contract Extension For David Freese. All of the details on the extension.
**David Freese: “My priority was to play for a team that could compete to win”. Alan Saunders talked with Freese, Hurdle, and Huntington about the move, with some very encouraging comments from Freese on why he wanted to stay in Pittsburgh.
**Tyler Glasnow Goes Three Innings in Rehab Start for Altoona. Sean McCool with live coverage of Glasnow’s latest rehab start.
**A Look at the Pirates’ Flat Offense After a 3-1 Loss to Houston. Alan Saunders looks at the struggling offense after tonight’s loss.
**Prospect Watch: Tyler Glasnow Rehabs for Altoona; Hanson Leaves Game Early. Brian Peloza has a live report from Indianapolis, where Alen Hanson left the game early with an injury.
**The Twenty: Barrett Barnes and Mitch Keller Continue With Strong Numbers. Our weekly feature, with reports on the best players in the system from the last week.