9:07pm: The Dodgers officially announced the deal.
7:43pm: David Freese has agreed to return to the Dodgers on a one-year, $4.5MM deal, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post (Twitter link). In total, Freese will receive $5MM, which includes a $500K buyout from the $6MM team option that the Dodgers declined, per Jorge Castillo of the L.A. Times (Twitter link). In doing so, the Dodgers will save $1MM. Fancred’s Jon Heyman tweeted Thursday morning that there was momentum towards a deal between the two parties.
Freese, 35, slashed .385/.489/.641 in 19 games for the Dodgers after he was acquired from the Pirates in a late-August trade. Freese provides a valuable right-handed bat to come off the bench, in addition to a veteran clubhouse presence, where he will help fill the void left by Chase Utley’s retirement. As they did several times in the postseason, the Dodgers may choose to play Freese in the starting lineup against a left-handed pitcher to maximize their platoon advantage; in 2018, Freese posted a .915 OPS against left-handed starters, compared to .672 against righty starters.
Including the postseason, Freese hit four home runs for the Dodgers down the stretch, proving his worth to a contending team. A known clutch performer, Freese’s bat was a critical part of the Dodgers’ World Series run, and he figures to play a pivotal role in the Dodgers’ quest to appear in the Fall Classic for a third consecutive year in 2019. Additionally, Freese has garnered a reputation as a contributor off the field as well, representing a key veteran leader in a clubhouse that will be without the 39-year-old Utley next season.
As they demonstrated in October, the Dodgers have no shortage of versatile hitters that can enter the game off the bench and play multiple positions. Freese slots into a group of position players that features moving parts all over the diamond, resulting in almost entirely different lineups depending on matchups. With Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Cody Bellinger, and others, the Dodgers enjoy the luxury of depth that is crucial in constructing a contender. Freese, for his part, adds to that depth: though he is limited to playing corner infield, he was a fixture in the middle of the Dodgers’ lineup when a lefty took the mound for the opponent. His proficiency against left-handers strengthens the Dodgers’ ability to vary their mix of position players over the course of a game.
By inking a new contract with Freese instead of exercising his club option, the Dodgers will save $1MM dollars on their 2019 payroll. Although it may not seem like much, the Dodgers will certainly welcome any extra flexibility they can gain as they approach a free agency class ripe with potential targets. After sneaking under the luxury tax last season, the club looks to be in position to spend substantially in the coming months, even with a current projected payroll of $185MM.