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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