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Pirates

Pirates notebook: David Freese no lock at 3rd base

| Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017, 7:06 p.m.
Pirates third baseman David Freese drives in to runs with a single during the first inning against the Cardinals Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates third baseman David Freese drives in to runs with a single during the first inning against the Cardinals Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, at PNC Park.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Even if the Pirates leave the winter meetings Thursday without acquiring a third baseman, that won't necessarily mean David Freese has a grip on the starting job.

“I haven't made any decisions in ink or in stone as of yet,” manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday.

Pressed into full-time duty by Jung Ho Kang's absence, Freese started 114 games at third this past season and batted .263 with 10 home runs. Among National League third basemen with at least 300 plate appearances, Freese ranked 11th with a .729 OPS.

Freese will turn 35 in April. General manager Neal Huntington already has indicated Sean Rodriguez and Adam Frazier will get playing time at third next year.

“I'm still working through our best, strongest team — our best defensive team, our best offensive team,” Hurdle said. “David mans third base very well defensively. He picked us up in a big way last year. I think that needs to be represented and kept in mind as well.”

Diaz ready for more

Catcher Francisco Cervelli also could be in line for reduced playing time, even if he stays healthy next year.

This past season, Cervelli played in 81 games and batted a career-worst .249. Cervelli, who will turn 32 in March, is owed $22 million over the next two seasons.

“Our hope is that Cervelli is going to catch as many games as he can,” Huntington said. “We probably stretched him with the 130 (games in 2015). Like Freese, (Cervelli) is better at a certain point, but there is going to be a point of diminishing returns if we ask too much.”

That will mean a larger role for Elias Diaz, who made 44 starts and batted .223 with a .579 OPS.

“I believe (Diaz) can be an everyday catcher,” Hurdle said. “I believe that the bat's going to play. And the relationship he was able to build with our entire (pitching) staff … could be invaluable moving forward.”

Rule 5 Draft

The Pirates have two open spots on their 40-man roster and could fill one or both of them Thursday via the Rule 5 Draft.

“There are players we've talked about,” Huntington said. “We obviously have the spots. Part of it will be who's there when we pick. If there's a player who we like available, I would anticipate we'll select one.”

The Pirates will have the 10th pick, based on reverse order of this past season's standings.

Notable prospects the Pirates could lose in the draft are right-handers Yeudy Garcia and Tyler Eppler and shortstop Adrian Valerio.

Last year, the Pirates selected lefty reliever Tyler Webb, but he was returned to the New York Yankees at the end of spring training.

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

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