Pirates sign Freese to one-year contract

Veteran will start at third base until Kang returns from injury

Pirates sign Freese to one-year contract

BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates reported to Spring Training with only one major question about their lineup left to answer: Who will play third base until Jung Ho Kang returns to full health? On Friday, they found an answer outside of the organization.

Pittsburgh signed free-agent infielder David Freese to a one-year, $3 million contract. Freese -- the former Cardinal, Angel and World Series MVP -- will be the Pirates' everyday third baseman while Kang is out, and the club plans to use him as a backup corner infielder whenever Kang comes off the disabled list (knee surgery).

"The idea is it adds a very talented, veteran bat to our club that's an experienced winner, that is going to bounce around the field for us and gives us an insurance policy until Jung Ho's ready to go," general manager Neal Huntington said Friday night.

Freese, 32, posted a .257/.323/.420 slash line with 14 home runs and 56 RBIs for the Angels last year. He is a career .276/.344/.417 hitter, and he has played nearly his entire career at third base, making him a logical replacement for Kang. The addition of Freese only further solidifies Josh Harrison's status as the starting second baseman; a temporary move back to third base seemed unlikely all spring, and it's even less of a possibility with Freese on board.

Freese snuffs out bunt attempt

Freese is expected to report to McKechnie Field on Saturday morning. It's unclear when he'll be ready to play in Grapefruit League games.

"We'll see. He's worked hard. He feels ready to go," Huntington said. "We'll see just where he is when he gets in here. He's a veteran. He knows what he needs, and we'll probably allow him to tell us when he feels like he's ready to jump into a game."

The Pirates hope to have Kang back in their lineup by mid-to-late April, at which point Freese will become a backup at third base and the right-handed half of their first-base platoon alongside lefty-swinging John Jaso.

Freese has played 21 innings over nine games at first base during his seven-year Major League career. Jaso is also learning the position this spring.

"Even when [Kang] comes back, he's going to need some days here and there to keep him strong. This gives us a Major League-caliber third baseman to step in and do that," Huntington said. "David will give us the ability to share time with John at first base. He's not played a ton over there -- we seem to do that quite a bit -- but we do feel that he'll be able to come in, get up to speed quickly and be able to bounce back and forth between the corners."

While the move answers one of the Pirates' biggest questions, it leaves several more in its place.

What happens when Kang comes back? He will be the everyday third baseman. Freese will spell him when he needs a day off. Jordy Mercer will remain the Pirates' everyday shortstop, as the position will be too physically demanding for Kang, especially after such a serious injury and lengthy recovery.

What about Michael Morse? He was viewed as Jaso's most likely platoon partner, and that won't change while Kang is on the disabled list. Morse will be the right-handed first baseman, and Freese will play third base. After that?

"Depending on how long it takes into the season to get Kang healthy, that's a road we'll head down when we get there," Huntington said.

What about Jason Rogers, who seemed like a natural backup corner infielder?

"He still fits. We're going to have a couple spots wide open on that bench," Huntington said. "The challenge becomes when we get down the road and Kang returns, we'll have a tougher decision."

How does this affect their bench come Opening Day? For now, not much. Assuming Jaso is at first and Freese at third, the Pirates could open the year with a bench unit of Morse, Rogers, catcher Chris Stewart and utility man Sean Rodriguez. The final spot could come down to outfielder Matt Joyce or infielders Pedro Florimon and Cole Figueroa.

"We still have plenty of opportunity on the bench whether it's for Cole Figueroa, Jason Rogers, Matt Joyce, Pedro Florimon," Huntington said. "All those guys, this really doesn't change the initial opportunity. It's just David Freese jumps in and will take those third-base at-bats out of the gate."

To clear a 40-man roster spot, the Pirates designated left-hander Jesse Biddle for assignment. Pittsburgh acquired Biddle, in the early stages of his Tommy John recovery, from Philadelphia over the offseason. The Pirates hope he will clear waivers and remain in their organization.

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.