Opinion: David Freese is not wrong


Pirate third baseman David Freese put the organization on blast as the team entered camp on Friday and what he said was not wrong

Pirate infielder David Freese put the organization he works for on blast as the team entered camp. Freese’s comments were geared towards the current construct of the Pirates roster and the moves the front office made over the offseason. As you can read more about here, Freese believes the Pirate clubhouse has a culture problem.

Its no secret the city of Pittsburgh has a rich history of its professional sports teams winning. The Pirates and Steelers were dominant in the 1970s, the Pirates and Penguins owned the early 1990s, and the Steelers have sustained relative success throughout the 1990s and 2000s. All three teams have won AT LEAST five titles each, the most recent being the Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 2016 and 2017.

“You look at the Steelers and the Penguins and then you got the Pirates,” Pirate reserve infielder David Freese said to reporters in Bradenton on Friday. “If I’m handling this situation, I’m losing sleep trying to compete with those other two teams.”

Freese was clearly speaking of the current situation. Pittsburgh was one of the premier professional sports towns after the Pirates snapped its 20-year playoff drought in 2013. From 2013 to 2016, the Steel City housed a World Series contender, a Super Bowl contender, and a Stanley Cup champion.

We can’t say the same currently.

The Pirates dealt away Andrew McCutchen and Gerrit Cole over the offseason. Two linchpins of contending teams from 2013 to 2016 are gone and have been swapped away for young talent oozing with potential.

“I think it’s better that Cutch got traded and didn’t leave for free agency,” Freese continued. “I think getting traded makes it a little easier because if Cutch tore it up this year… we all know he wouldn’t be back here. It’s a lot easier in that situation.”

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The Pirates landed a rotation starter in Joe Musgrove and a top-five organizational prospect in third baseman Colin Moran, among others, from Houston in exchange for Cole. They got top-five prospect in outfielder Bryan Reynolds and top-30 prospect, reliever Kyle Crick from San Francisco in exchange for McCutchen.

“I think we lost 87 games because (of) our environment,” Freese said. “I think that’s something 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… You got to have urgency, you got to have accountability… I’ve been here for two years, and we’ve kind of lacked in that department a little bit.”

With the Pirates dealing away its two household superstars, Freese has a point.

“The last two years, we haven’t done as well as we could have because of our environment,” Freese said. “I walk in every day, and it’s not in the air. The demand to win hasn’t been in the air… If you don’t walk in and feel it and see it in people’s eyes, it’s just not going to work.”

What changed in between 2015 and 2017 — where the Pirates were the best team in baseball that could have won a World Series title, to a team that lost 87 games and fell flat on its face?

Andrew McCutchen
(Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images) /

“You go through ’13, ’14, 15… I wish I was here for that,” Freese said. “People talk about the different feeling, from those three years (’13 through ’15) to these two (’16 and ’17)… You look at a guy like Cutch, I think he deserved better in the sense of, he’s a guy that took this organization from the ground into the spotlight.”

Cutch did.

The organization made a conscious decision to trade away its superstar player and one of the game of baseball’s ambassadors because of the fear that he wouldn’t re-sign, among other things.

That brings in the executive summary to wrap in all of Freese’s comments: Contention is a choice.

The Pirates dealt Gerrit Cole to Houston on January 13, tipping over the first domino. Cole has one year on his contract, one year remaining in arbitration, and then he is a free agent in 2020.

After McCutchen bounced back from a 0.6 WAR season in 2016 and compiled a 3.7 WAR season in 2017, the Pirates decided enough was enough and wanted to move on. The front office concluded that dealing him would be the best for the franchise’s future, and they clearly believed he would leave after the 2018 season, one way or another.

Look at it this way — you either get something for the two players, or you don’t. It’s a quasi-method of managing a roster, but do you risk current success in order to prevent a total compromise of your future?

On the other hand, do you keep what you have, attempt to have a contending season, and risk getting nothing in return if and when the expiring players leave?

Based on Freese’s comments regarding the atmosphere over the last two years, it was definitely time for a change in the clubhouse, one way or another. Trading McCutchen and Cole doesn’t totally make the Pirates bad on paper, and they weren’t cancerous to the clubhouse by any means, but perhaps the trade is a way to hit the reset button?

The Pirates still have young talent to work around. Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco are in the prime of their careers. Josh Bell is a solid first baseman who is still growing. Adam Frazier turned in a nice 2017 season. They have a young pitching staff where Ivan Nova is the oldest arm at the age of 31. Dovydas Neverauskas, Michael Feliz, and Felipe Rivero are all solid, young relievers.

Next: Feb. 18 news & notes from Bradenton

This team still has pieces. Whether it is enough to contend or not is subjective. Let’s not forget the Pirates are now focusing on the future, and based on current talent, it looks to be bright.

Austin Meadows is still a potential option for the Pirates future outfield. Despite hamstring injuries that knocked him down in the prospect ranks in 2017, he can still be a contributor in Pittsburgh. Newly acquired Bryan Reynolds should be ready by 2019, and Moran will likely start at third base this season.

It was a nice run while it lasted, but the future of the Pirates is still bright. There is every reason to believe it can get brighter, as well.

Corey Crisan is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Rum Bunter on the FanSided family of networks. Follow him on twitter @cdcrisan.