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David Freese thinks Pirates are not trying hard enough to win

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BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) David Freese thinks the Pittsburgh Pirates are not trying hard enough to win.

“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.”

Deciding to rebuild, the Pirates traded center fielder Andrew McCutchen, the 2013 NL MVP, to San Francisco and dealt right-hander Gerrit Cole, a 19-game winner in 2015, to Houston.

Freese joined the Pirates during spring training in 2016, agreeing to a $3 million, one-year contra ct, 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 said he does not understand why Pirates owner Bob Nutting does not try to keep pace.

“You look at Steelers and the Penguins then you’ve got the Pirates,” Freese said. “If I’m handling the situation, I’d be losing sleep trying to compete those other two teams. To have all three teams in a city like Pittsburgh on top of each league, that would be incredible.”

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.

“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?”

Following the departures of Cole and McCutchen, All-Star second baseman Josh Harrison asked the Pirates to trade him if they did not plan to contend this season.

Freese wants to stay yet admires Harrison’s stance.

“It’s just somebody being real,” Freese said. “He’s at the top of my list as far as (being) a guy who plays as hard as anybody. He has a right to say what he wants.”

More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball

Report: Major League Baseball bans transactions with Mexican League teams

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Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports reports that Major League Baseball has banned all transactions with Liga Mexicana de Beisbol (LMB), popularly known as the Mexican League. As of now, all 30 teams are prohibited from signing players under contract with LMB teams. The ban was issued due to Major League Baseball’s contention that “corruption” and “fraud” run rampant in the player acquisition process.

Passan describes the issues in detail, and they sound pretty compelling. The upshot: LMB clubs — which have full control over their players — are taking advantage of them, taking most if not all of the signing bonuses MLB teams give them after negotiating for their rights. Mexican teams often sign players when they’re 15 years-old so that, once they are old enough for American teams to approach them, they’re in the position to take a usurious cut.

Passan says Major League Baseball is demanding greater transparency from LMB before it’s willing to lift the ban. He also says that the MLBPA is in “lockstep” with Major League Baseball on the matter, which makes sense given that, if MLB’s claims are accurate, players are being exploited here. He also says that if LMB does not change its ways, there is a “Plan B,” though it’s not clear what that is.

There aren’t a ton of Mexican players signed by MLB teams each year, but there are enough to make this a significant issue that is worth watching.