By Jason Shetler
Entering Spring Training last year, the Pirates were looking to find a short term replacement for Jung-Ho Kang, who was expected to miss at least the first month of the season, as he was recovering from a torn meniscus and fractured tibia that he sustained in September of 2015.
Last offseason, Jason Rogers was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, and he appeared to be a possibility to replace Kang. In the second week of Spring however, the Pirates made a surprising move by signing David Freese to a one-year deal for $3 million. While the money was very reasonable, another factor was draft pick compensation not being attached to the former World Series MVP.
Freese played well overall in his first season in Pittsburgh last year. He not only received playing time at third base, but also at first base, as he platooned with John Jaso. Freese was phenomenal versus lefty pitching, posting a .963 OPS against them. His bat speed remained solid with an average Exit Velocity of 91.5 mph, which was above the MLB average in 2016 (89.6 mph). Defensively, Freese was above average at third base with a 5.2 UZR/150 along with five Defensive Runs Saved.
In August, Freese and the Pirates agreed to terms on a two-year extension worth $11 million, which includes a $6 million club option for 2019. Freese will be put in a first base platoon again this season, only this time with Josh Bell. He also might find himself getting significant playing time at third base, depending on what kind of punishment Kang receives for his role in a DUI accident back in December. Even as he enters his age 34 season, Freese continues to be a very good all-around third baseman, so he would be more than capable of filling in for Kang. Based on his solid work versus southpaws, as well as his defensive play, the extension could pay great dividends for the Pirates.