Pirates sign infielder Freese to 1-year, $3 million contract

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, March 11, 2016, 6:45 p.m.

BRADENTON, Fla. — With third baseman Jung Ho Kang set to open the season on the disabled list, the Pirates on Friday signed free-agent infielder David Freese to a one-year, $3 million contract.

Freese, 32, spent the past two seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. In 2015, he played in 121 games and hit .257 with 14 home runs and a .743 OPS.

“He adds a very talented bat to our club and is an experienced winner,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “He's going to bounce around the field for us and gives us an insurance policy until Jung Ho is ready to go.”

Freese is expected to be in Pirates' spring training camp Saturday morning.

“We have to be careful that we don't push him too hard, but we also know we need to get him ready to go,” Huntington said.

To open a spot on the 40-man roster, pitcher Jesse Biddle was designated for assignment.

Kang is recovering from surgery in September to repair a fractured leg and torn meniscus. He is working out in spring training camp but has not yet been cleared for baserunning.

“He wants to start the season active,” Huntington said. “We've talked for a long time that that wasn't going to happen. We've been talking about mid- to late-April (return date). Nothing's changed in his (rehab) time frame. This is just a chance to add a very good major player to our club.”

Huntington stressed that Kang will be the everyday third basemen when he returns, and that shortstop Jordy Mercer and second baseman Josh Harrison are cemented at their positions.

Freese also will get some playing time at first base, Huntington said. Freese has appeared in just nine games at first during his seven-year career.

“David will … share time with John (Jaso) at first base,” Huntington said.

That likely means Michael Morse eventually will become expendable. The Pirates already appear to be showcasing Morse to scouts.

On Friday, Morse was at first base in the late innings, a time when positions are usually manned by minor leaguers.

He is slated to start in right field Saturday against the Detroit Tigers.

“Michael Morse's role won't change out of the gate,” Huntington said. “Depending upon how long it takes to get Kang healthy, that's a road that we'll head down when we get there.”

Freese's arrival also diminishes the chances of making the team for Jason Rogers and prospect Alen Hanson.

In 2011, Freese became just the sixth player to be named MVP of the National League Championship Series and World Series. He batted .397 with five homers and 21 RBIs in the St. Louis Cardinals' playoff run.

Freese was a NL All-Star in 2012. A year later, he clubbed a two-run homer off Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole in Game 5 of the NL Division Series.

“We're hoping he hits a few more of those for us this year,” Huntington said.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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