When David Freese heard from his agent, Nez Balelo, told him that extension talks with the Pirates were coming to fruition, he was "pretty pumped," the corner infielder said Monday afternoon. Although neither Freese nor Neal Huntington could recall how and when the negotiations started, both sides were clearly satisfied with the outcome.
"Honestly, I've talked about my love for this organization and this spot since spring training," Freese said. "I know they didn't know what they were going to get out of me, but apparently they're happy with it."
Freese is having a productive offensive season and is providing much-needed defensive stability at third and first, but his leadership and interactions with teammates are what Clint Hurdle most appreciates.
"The way he impacts us in the dugout, in the clubhouse — he's a man's man," Hurdle said. "He has a lot of respect for the game. I'm excited for the signing, for our organization, for the team, and for him. It's a story of redemption. It's a story of such of good stuff."
Neal Huntington admitted the Francisco Liriano trade, and the resulting financial flexibility, opened the door to pursuing an extension for Freese.
"This is a direct example of having some flexibility of having some breathing room," Huntington said. "To be able to get creative. Maybe to stretch beyond what we normally would be boxed into."
Huntington denied that the ongoing legal situation involving Jung-Ho Kang was a factor.
Looking forward, the Pirates will not have to shop for a corner infielder in what the Pirates' general manager described as a "fairly weak" free agent third base market. Huntington anticipates Freese continuing to fill a similar role to the one has this season: spelling Kang at third and, should the Pirates decide Josh Bell is not ready to take over first on a full time basis next year, providing a right-handed complement to John Jaso.
"It probably would be a little different if we were expecting him to play 155 games a year for the next two or three years," Huntington said. "In this role, it should allow his legs to stay strong. It should allow to bring the skills he brings to the table to play well off the bench, to play well in a part time role, [or] to play well in a more regular role, depending on things plays out over the next two to three years."
With the upcoming third base market, Freese may have left some money on the table by signing with the Pirates. But at this stage in his career, he says, there are other factors to consider.
"Where I play and who I'm around is more important to me," Freese said. "From top to bottom, from Clint all the way down, they teach the game. I haven't necessarily felt that at this level in a couple years. To be around this group, a group that loves playing the game and has some fun with it, it's awesome. At my age in my career, to continue to learn the game each and every day is great."
Clint Hurdle said that the Freese extension is another sign of how far the organization has come in recent years. The Pirates have gained "street cred" amongst players and agents, and it's turned Pittsburgh into a destination rather than a layover, especially for players like Freese who are entering the final stages of their careers.
"There are many phases a player goes through," Hurdle said. "You go from being survivor, [to] a contributor, to a winner. David's run that up the flag pole once and is probably trying to do it again."