Chicago Cubs: Why is Mike Freeman on the roster?

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 09: Mike Freeman #15 of the Chicago Cubs bats against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on September 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Brewers defeated the Cubs 15-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 09: Mike Freeman #15 of the Chicago Cubs bats against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field on September 9, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The Brewers defeated the Cubs 15-2. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

In perhaps one of the biggest games of the year for the Chicago Cubs, an unfamiliar name appeared in the lineup and played a big role.

Entering Tuesday, the Chicago Cubs had their magic number to clinch the NL Central down to one. With clinching the division on their minds, the Cubs squared off against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Of the many storylines that surrounded this game and series, no one would have predicted at the start of the season that a 30-year-old journeyman would be starting a game for the Cubs in late September.

That journeyman’s name is Mike Freeman. When Freeman signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs in early August, he joined his fourth team in two years.

Before we answer why Freeman is on the roster, it may be important to get to know him a little better.

Where did Mike Freeman come from?

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Freeman was drafted three times. Once out of high-school in 2006 and twice out of Clemson in 2009 and 2010. In 2010, Freeman was selected in the 11th round by the Arizona Diamondbacks, the same team that selected him in the 36th round a year earlier.

After the better part of six seasons in the minors, Freeman finally earned a call-up to the majors with the Diamondbacks. On July 17, 2016, Freeman made his big league debut, going 0-for-3. In eight games with Arizona, Freeman notched just 11 at-bats and failed to record a hit.

By August 2016, Freeman was a member of the Seattle Mariners. In just 13 more at-bats with the Mariners, Freeman logged five hits, including his first big league RBI.

Freeman began the 2017 season with the Mariners, slashing .067/.176/.167 in 16 games.

After Freeman was DFA’d by the Mariners, the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed him on May 26. When the Dodgers acquired Yu Darvish at the trade deadline, Freeman was DFA’d once again.

Freeman provides depth

This is where the Cubs come in. On August 6, Chicago signed Freeman to a minor league contract. The whole idea behind the signing was to shore up the middle infield and provide depth if needed.

Just two days prior to Freeman’s signing, Chicago’s full-time shortstop, Addison Russell landed on the disabled list with a foot injury. Even with Russell on the DL, the Cubs still retained Ian Happ, Ben Zobrist and Javier Baez, all of whom could be plugged-in at short.

Despite having three possible replacements already on the roster, the Cubs were not as deep as one might have thought. Without Russell, Baez would have to be inserted as the primary shortstop. That would, in turn, slate Zobrist to become the full-time second baseman, pulling him off his duties in the outfield.

With Kyle Schwarber having a down season at the plate, Joe Maddon was using Zobrist to keep Schwarber’s bat out of the line-up until a favorable match-up occurred.

While Ian Happ has spent considerable time at second base this season, he has never played at shortstop. Even so, Happ’s 507 2/3 innings in the outfield compared to just 259 1/3 innings at second base this season suggest Maddon likes using Happ at positions other than second base or short.

In essence, the Cubs were one injury away from having to put Zobrist at shortstop, slide Happ into second and start a young and inexperienced Albert Almora in center field.

With little help to be had from the minor leagues and the idea that some major league experience is better than none, the Cubs elected to sign Freeman.

Freeman still had to earn his keep

Despite Freeman earning a contract, it was a minor league one, meaning he would have to report to Triple-A. There is no doubt that Freeman’s success at Triple-A aided him in getting to stick around and join the big league club.

In 23 games at Triple-A, Freeman slashed .273/.345/.390 with two home runs and six RBI.

Since joining the roster on September 1 when rosters expanded, Freeman has seen action in 11 games. In those games, Freeman is hitting just over .200 and has not recorded a home run or an RBI.

Why did Freeman get a start on Tuesday and what is his role?

Freeman earned the start on Tuesday because of an injury to Javier Baez and a planned day off for Addison Russell.

Baez’s sore knee came after he fouled a ball off of it during Monday’s victory over St. Louis. His injury is not expected to keep him out of the line-up more than a day or two.

With Russell and Baez back to full strength, Freeman’s role will be to provide emergency depth. The only reason he is currently on the roster is because they are expanded to 40 men. Do not expect to see Freeman on the post-season roster or even in a Cubs uniform past this season.

Next: Chicago Cubs: Who will play outfield in the postseason?

Freeman does have some experience pitching (one inning as a Mariner earlier this season). If the opportunity arises, Freeman could be used as an emergency reliever, but don’t hold your breath.