"The last two years, we didn't do as well as we could have because of our environment. That's what I think," the third baseman said Friday after reporting to spring training. "I walk in every day, and the demand to win just hasn't been in the air. That's what you need."
Freese joined the Pirates during spring training in 2016, agreeing to a $3 million, one-year contract, then reached an $11 million deal that August covering 2017 and 2018. The Pirates had ended a streak of 20 straight losing seasons, the longest stretch of futility in major North American professional sports history, and reached the playoffs each year from 2013-15. But they dropped to 78-83 in 2016 and 75-87 last year.
At the same time, the Penguins have won back-to-back Stanley Cup championships and the Steelers have reached the NFL playoffs for four straight years.
Freese expressed frustration with what he described as complacency of sorts. When he arrived the Pirate were coming off a 98-win season.
"I think this place kind of gets ahead of itself," Freese said. "They try and keep up with the way analytical stuff is working, but man, you've got to have urgency. You've got to have accountability. You've got to have all these things. I've been here for two years and we've just kind of lacked in that department a little bit."
Freese, who was named World Series MVP in 2011 while playing for the St. Louis Cardinals, said McCutchen "deserved better" during his last two years with the club. Freese felt the club didn't surround McCutchen with a group ``that wanted to beat some (tail) for him.'' However, Freese also understands the direction the organization wanted to go in during the offseason.
"Losing Cutch is tough, but I hope the fans understand the Pirates are trying to do the best they can to be, I don't want to say competitive. Screw that word. It's such a safe word," Freese said. "I think the fans, I hope they understand that the Pirates are trying to win and they're trying to do the right thing for the organization with what they're allowed to do."
The Chicago Cubs won their second straight NL Central title last year and division rival Milwaukee added free agent center fielder Lorenzo Cain and acquired left fielder Christian Yelich from Miami. Pittsburgh's only addition from among the major league free agents is outfielder Daniel Nava, in camp with a minor league deal.
The Pirates used the trades of McCutchen and Cole to restock, acquiring pitchers Joe Musgrove and Kyle Crick and third base prospect Colin Moran among others. Regardless of who is in the clubhouse, Freese would like to see a shift in mindset in the clubhouse from the last two years. `
"You've got to start from the ground up," Freese said. "If you don't have the accountability and the demand to win, what's the point in doing anything else?"