The speedy Freel spent six of his eight big league seasons with the Reds and finished his career in 2009 with a .268 average and 143 steals.
"Really hurt by his passing!" Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips said on Twitter. "You'll never will be forgotten."
Freel drew attention in 2006 when he was quoted by the Dayton Daily News as saying he had an imaginary friend, Farney. "He's a little guy who lives in my head who talks to me and I talk to him," Freel was quoted as saying. "Everybody thinks I talk to myself, so I tell 'em I'm talking to Farney."
The Jacksonville native thrilled fans with his all-out style, yet it took a toll on his career. During his playing days, he once estimated he had suffered up to 10 concussions. Freel missed 30 games in 2007 after a collision with a teammate caused a concussion.
Freel showed no fear as he ran into walls, hurtled into the seats and crashed into other players trying to make catches. His jarring, diving grabs often made the highlight reels, and he was praised by those he played with and against for always having a dirt-stained uniform.
Selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 10th round of the 1995 amateur draft out of Tallahassee Community College, Freel made his big league debut in April 2001 with the Blue Jays after second baseman Homer Bush injured a thumb.
Freel appeared in just nine major league games that season, became a free agent and spent all of 2002 at Tampa Bay's Triple-A farm team. He signed a minor league deal with the Reds that November and made it back to the majors the following April.
He stayed with the Reds through 2008, when a torn tendon in his right hamstring caused him to miss the final 103 games of the season. He was traded to Baltimore at that December's winter meetings and split the 2009 season among the Orioles, Chicago Cubs and Kansas City Royals.
"The Reds family is deeply saddened to hear of the death of Ryan Freel," the Cincinnati Reds said in a statement.
Swisher joins Indians
Nick Swisher has agreed to a $56 million, four-year contract with the Cleveland Indians, a person familiar with the deal said.
The 32-year-old Swisher spent the last four seasons with the New York Yankees and took advantage of the short porch at Yankee Stadium. A switch-hitter who plays outfield and first base, he hit .272 this year with 24 homers and 93 RBIs.