David Freese was a World Series hero just a few minutes ago. And it's not like he was the random, temporary kind of postseason hero that October likes to jab in your eye: he was a young player, and getting better. The season after he was a postseason hero, he was an All-Star, hitting 20 home runs. He never reached those heights again, but he's been an unquestionably valuable player in five of his six major league seasons.
Freese is also refreshing his LinkedIn every five seconds, hoping someone responded to his résumé.
Sure, Freese is 32, and he's been average or so for years, which isn't the kind of description that makes teams want to hand out five-year deals, but for no one to have interest? In a healthy, robust free agent market? When he doesn't have draft-pick compensation attached to him?
Freese is known for a lot of things -- personally, I like to think of him as the player traded by the Padres in exchange for 90 at-bats from Jim Edmonds -- but he's nothing if not a steady, reliable, worthy big league regular. Those should be valuable. Those should be rare enough to be in demand on the open market. Instead, there's a great chance that Freese will have to settle for a one-year deal and a bench job. It doesn't make sense at first glance.
But that's why we have second glances. There's a logical reason why Freese is still looking for a job. It's a cruel, callous reason, but it's completely logical. There is no conspiracy, no hidden secrets. We're not going to learn that Freese has gangrene or took a crop duster on a drunken joyride.
The reason Freese is still a free agent is something we can break down by placing all 30 teams into one of four categories.
Absolutely thrilled with their third baseman
- Orioles - Manny Machado
- Rays - Evan Longoria
- Blue Jays - Josh Donaldson
- White Sox - Todd Frazier
- Royals - Mike Moustakas
- Twins - Trevor Plouffe
- Mariners - Kyle Seager
- Rangers - Adrian Beltre
- Phillies - Maikel Franco
- Nationals - Anthony Rendon
- Cubs - Kris Bryant
- Pirates - Josh Harrison
- Cardinals - Matt Carpenter
- Rockies - Nolan Arenado
- Dodgers - Justin Turner
- Giants - Matt Duffy
Fine with their third baseman, but would upgrade to get into the tier above
- Indians - Juan Uribe
- Tigers - Nick Castellanos
- Astros - Luis Valbuena
- Angels - Yunel Escobar
- A's - Danny Valencia
- Marlins - Martin Prado
- Diamondbacks - Jake Lamb
- Padres - Yangervis Solarte
Kinda stuck with an expensive (possibly still good) player they're not ready to ditch
- Red Sox - Pablo Sandoval
- Yankees - Chase Headley
- Mets - David Wright
Rebuilding with a vengeance
- Braves - Adonis Garcia
- Reds - Eugenio Suarez
- Brewers - Aaron Hill/Will Middlebrooks
And if you want to make that all into a pie chart, you get this:
There's always a team that can use a quality outfielder, which is why Dexter Fowler picked up a three-year deal that also meant the Orioles would surrender a draft pick. Fowler is basically the David Freese of outfielders. A little younger, sure, but his value is tethered to his you-know-what-you're-gonna-get more than anything else. He's employed -- on a significant contract -- because there are 90 starting outfield spots in baseball. Freese has 30, and they're all spoken for.
It's just bad luck. For a position that's been so understaffed/undervalued/unappreciated in baseball history -- 11 Hall of Fame third baseman, remember -- it's amazing that more than half of the teams aren't just OK with their third baseman, but absolutely thrilled. Those teams are expecting those players to be the third baseman in 2019, for the most part, if not longer. Freese is getting shoved aside by the talent bullies at his position.
There will be a little shuffling next year, with Turner, Prado, Valbuena and Beltre approaching free agency. But there will also be a prospect or two who emerges, a trade or two, and maybe an extension for a player up there. So even if Freese signs a one-year deal, somehow gets 500 at-bats and hits the market with a head of steam ... well, best of luck. Again. It's probably not going to be much different.
It's something of a Golden Age of third basemen, apparently. How many of the players up there would make sense as an MVP candidate. Five? Six? Seven? One of them won it last year, after all. And the teams that don't have an MVP candidate have sweet, sweet competence, and they don't see a need to spend money on something similar.
It's a nice feeling for you and your team, but it's a bad feeling for Freese. He's a good player getting hosed by a 30-team game of musical chairs. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it.