BRADENTON, Fla. — There have been some major changes to the makeup of the Pirates clubhouse heading into the 2018 season, but the most impactful change might need to come from the attitude of it, accord to veteran third baseman David Freese, who reported to Spring Training on Friday.
Freese was critical of the tenor of the clubhouse and the amount of accountability that’s been meted out to players over his two years with Pittsburgh, and it’s clear that he believes that the departure of several veteran players can also be an opportunity to re-establish a winning culture in the Pirates’ clubhouse.
Here’s Freese’s long rant on why he feels that the Pirates have performed below their talent level over the last two years:
“My opinion is that I don’t think we lost 87 games because (Starling) Marte wasn’t there or because (Jung Ho) Kang wasn’t there. I think we lost 87 games because our environment doesn’t allow it. I think it’s something that we have to work on. I think it’s important to focus on the foundational components of what it takes to have a winning culture. I think this place kind of gets ahead of itself. They try and keep up with the way analytical stuff is working, but man, you’ve gotta have urgency. You’ve gotta have accountability. You’ve gotta have all these things. I’ve been here for two years and we’ve just kinda lacked in that department a little bit.
“You’ve gotta start from the ground up. You can try to do all these things, but if you don’t have the accountability or the demand to win, what’s the point in doing it? The last two years, we haven’t done as well as we could have because of our environment. That’s what I think. I walk in every day, and it’s not in the air. The demand to win is just not in the air. That’s what you need. You can say all you want about how we’re going to win, this and that, but if you don’t walk in, you don’t feel it and you don’t see it in people’s eyes, it’s just not going to work.”
Freese didn’t limit his criticism to the front office, saying that the players own a full share of the environment that’s been created.
“These young guys on this team are animals and studs and a few of them are going to be superstars,” he said. “We need the guys that have been around to step up and play better, whether you’re an everyday guy or a bench guy, you’ve gotta work hard. But the three hours, man, when you’re in that dugout and on the field, it has to be about kicking some ass. When you’re losing 10-2 in the pouring rain against Joe Maddon and you’re laughing, that’s not good. That says a lot.”
Freese also clarified that he doesn’t believe that the Pirates aren’t trying to win, rather, that their focus on the analytical and nuts and bolts part of baseball has left a hole missing in the leadership and accountability side of things.
“I think the intent around here is good,” he said. “I think everyone that is in this organization is trying to win. I think we just get ahead of ourselves. The foundational components to winning are not that difficult. It’s the same as when you’re in high school. You grab some talent, you have some desire and you demand that you go out there and win. I get it, you can be selfish and get your own. You need guys like that. You need all sorts of types of players on your team. The bottom line is that we haven’t played as we’re capable of, I think because of what we’re expected upon ourselves.
“I feel like the last two years, teams come in and they’re just kinda like, ‘Alright, we’ve got the Pirates. Let’s take care of them.’ That’s unacceptable. You go through ’13, ’14, ’15, I wish I was here for that. I do, because I think I would have a better understanding of the difference. People talk about the different feeling from those years to these (last) two. I walked in when I signed, and I could tell. I walked into a clubhouse coming off 98 wins. I’m like, ‘Here we go.’ Within a day or two, I’m like, ‘Man, what are we missing? What’s going on here?’
“Do we have to win? Not necessarily. But you’ve gotta be exhausted at the end of the year, and played you tail off, collectively, to win as many games as you can. I think the fans the deserve that in any city, especially as passionate as these guys are, and we deserve. We have to respect ourselves and respect the opportunity that we have to do things that are special. … At the end of the year, you have to feel that we honestly went for it. If that happens, I think you can be happy.
“Losing Cutch is tough, but I hope the fans understand the Pirates are trying to do the best they can to be, I don’t want to say competitive. Screw that word. It’s such a safe word. … I think the fans, I hope they understand that the Pirates are trying to win and they’re trying to do the right thing for the organization with what they’re allowed to do.
“It’s part of the deal and you move on. I think this group is excited. I think it’s going to have a fresh feel. We’re ready to go.”