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Angels facing decision with FA-to-be Freese

ANAHEIM -- The Angels began to get an idea of what life without David Freese might be like in August, while the veteran third baseman nursed a fractured right index finger that forced the club to utilize inferior replacements -- first veteran Conor Gillaspie, then rookie Kaleb Cowart -- throughout a debilitating 19-loss month.

When Freese returned, their lineup deepened and their record improved. It was no coincidence, which is why the Angels are expected to strongly consider bringing Freese back this offseason -- even though they have two promising young players waiting, and even though they'll have other holes to fill in their lineup.

Freese wants to return, too.

"I think they understand that," he stated after the season finale. "With that said, a lot of things have to happen on both sides. It's a new experience for me. We'll see what happens when the World Series is over and go from there."

Freese was a World Series hero for the Cardinals in 2011 and an All-Star while batting .293/.372/.467 in 2012. He hasn't been able to match those numbers, but Freese has been pretty consistent over the last three years, batting .260/.328/.394 while averaging 131 games. His range is subpar, but scouts value Freese's ability to make the routine plays and consider him above average charging balls.

Freese's .722 OPS from 2013-15 was slightly below the Major League average at his position (.735), but he's been worth 4.3 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) with the Angels these last two years, ranking 16th among third basemen with at least 950 plate appearances in that span.

In short, Freese is perfectly average for his position. His timing, however, is exceptional.

Now 32, Freese's foray into free agency comes at a time without very many alternatives. The only other established third basemen available this winter -- not counting utility players like Mike Aviles and Daniel Murphy -- are Juan Uribe, Casey McGehee and Alberto Callaspo. Only Uribe (5.5) has come close to matching Freese's fWAR these last two years, and he's four years older.

The Angels value what Freese brings to their clubhouse and witnessed the kind of lift he gave them after returning on Sept. 1, batting .308/.368/.486 while the Angels won 20 of their final 31 games to keep it interesting. But there's a strong chance he can price himself out of their plans.

Their fallback options are Cowart and Kyle Kubitza, both equal parts talented and uncertain. Cowart, 23, is solid defensively and turned his career around at the plate just before a midseason promotion to Triple-A, but the sample size isn't large enough for the Angels to truly know if he's ready for an everyday role. Kubitza, 25, was acquired from the Braves last winter to be the everyday third baseman by 2016, but he had an underwhelming season in Triple-A, batting .271/.357/.433.

The Angels' next third baseman will probably be dictated by the free market.

"I don't know my future at all," said Freese, represented by Nez Balelo of CAA. "It's going to be an exciting time. I'm very fortunate to come over here and understand what this organization is about and what everybody on this team brings to the table."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.
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