By Jason Shetler
Growing up as kids, all of us at some point stood in the backyard, dreaming about hitting a game-winning home run in a World Series game. For David Freese, that dream became reality, as the St. Louis native delivered a walkoff homer in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series to force a Game 7, helping the Cardinals capture their 11th championship in franchise history.
With the departure of Albert Pujols, Freese took over as the Cardinals team leader in 2012, and was productive in his first and only All-Star season. 2013 however was a down year for him, as he was a replacement level player.
Prior to the 2014 season, Freese and reliever Fernando Salas were both dealt to the Los Angeles Angels for outfielders Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. During his two seasons with the Halos, Freese was a two-win player in terms of WAR.
The Pirates weren’t going to have Jung-Ho Kang ready before the start of last season, as he was recovering from a torn meniscus and fractured tibia. Midway through Spring Training, Freese signed a one-year deal with the Pirates to be a veteran stopgap at third base until Kang returned. Because the Angels chose not to make Freese a qualifying offer, the Bucs were able to sign him without giving up a draft pick.
Freese performed well in 2016, posting a .764 OPS. Once Kang became the third baseman again, he saw time as a first base platoon, alongside John Jaso and eventually Josh Bell. Freese mashed lefty pitching, as he posted an OPS of .963 against them. On the defensive side, he was steady, with a 2.7 UZR and five Defensive Runs Saved. In late August, Freese and the Pirates agreed to terms on a two-year extension.
This past offseason, Kang was arrested in South Korea for his third drunk driving incident. Because of that, he has not been able to come to the States with a working visa. That meant that Freese would take over at third base entering 2017. He got off to a very hot start in April until a hamstring injury put him on the disabled list April 29th. His return from the DL came on May 12th. Freese is doing things that seem to go quietly unnoticed. As of right now, his .374 on base percentage actually leads the club, while he has been productive again versus lefty pitching, putting up an .854 OPS. Freese this year is due to make $6.25 million, which is a bargain, and will be even more so next season, as he’ll be owed less at $4.25 million. In terms of all-around third basemen, Freese certainly falls under the category of underrated.