CINCINNATI -- Since joining the Reds in 2003, Ryan Freel has shown a total disregard for his body while trying to make spectacular plays in the field. That's about to change, now that Freel has been given a two-year, $7 million contract extension on Monday that will keep him with Cincinnati through 2009. "Now I really don't care what happens," Freel said. "It could be a little scarier out there. I don't know what I'm capable of doing."
Seated next to Freel at an afternoon press conference at Great American Ball Park, general manager Wayne Krivsky didn't have buyer's remorse when he heard Freel's comments. "That's who he is," Krivsky said. "That's the way he plays. None of us want to change that." Freel, 31, is in the final season of a two-year contract that is paying him $2.3 million. The extension, which will pay him base salaries of $3 million in 2008 and $4 million in 2009 plus incentives, avoids his final two years of arbitration eligibility. Krivsky finalized the deal with Freel's agent, Tommy Tanzer, last week. The GM had no qualms about negotiating into the regular season or banging out a contract well ahead of time. "I like getting deals done," Krivsky said. "I like having a win-win deal where you feel like you represent ownership well and at the same time, the player feels good about how he's being treated and he gets a little security. We can put the contract stuff aside for another two years and go play and go from there." Entering Monday's game against the Brewers, Freel was batting .243 (9-for-37) with a .349 on-base percentage and six walks. A speedy leadoff hitter, he has at least 36 stolen bases in each of the last three seasons. "I'm here because of being versatile and playing the game the way it's supposed to be played," Freel said. "I'm glad we got this thing done because I know, as aggressive as I am, I want to stay aggressive. I want to be able to do every little thing I can do to help the ballclub win -- whether it's diving into a wall or the stands or whatever it may be. I want to be to come out here and give it all I've got. That will never change. I don't care how much money I was given." A 10th-round draft pick of the Blue Jays in 1995, Freel didn't reach the Major Leagues with Toronto until 2001. By the end of that year, he was let go and played in Triple-A for the Devil Rays in 2002. The Reds signed Freel as a Minor League free agent in November 2002. A fan favorite for his hustle and hard-nosed effort in games, Freel has been a super-utility player since his first promotion to the Reds in 2003. He can play all three outfield spots and second and third base. "He's here today because of his passion for the game, his energy and the way he plays the game and goes about his business," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "Being a versatile player able to play multiple positions, there's tremendous value in that. "There's no reason in the world why every guy in our organization can't follow that example." After years as an everyday player without an everyday spot in the lineup, Freel became the Reds' regular center fielder before this season when Ken Griffey Jr. was shifted to right field. But he'll probably never fully shed the utility tag. "I think he'll always be viewed as a multi-position guy and that's tremendous," Narron said. "You'll get plus defense at any of the three outfield spots and much more than adequate at third and second. He's our emergency catcher, whether he knows it or not." With Freel's frenetic play, there is some risk for the Reds. He had three stints on the disabled list over the past four seasons and there was also a season-ending thumb fracture from a diving attempt near the end of 2006. Ironically, the one time Freel took it easy on a play during this year at Spring Training, he hurt his hip flexor against the Yankees pulling up on an Alex Rodriguez fly ball to center field. Later in camp against the Phillies in Clearwater, he made a dangerous warning track catch while diving head-first into the fence and came out sore all over. "It doesn't take talent," Freel said. "You don't have to be a superstar to play the game the way it's supposed to be. It just shows it can be rewarding if you do the things you're supposed to in this game. How hard is it to run balls out and make a couple of diving plays and things like that? It's all about your heart and desire. "I hate to say this, but I'm overpaid. Are you kidding? I get to put on a uniform and play a game that I love more than anything in the world. I said when I first came up, 'Jeez I'd just take the minimum for the rest of my career.' The money is great. A World Series would be better."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.