For as much e-ink that was spilled over the trade for A.J. Burnett, plus all of the well-deserved praise for the Andrew McCutchen extension, the most important off-season move for the Pirates may have been the trade for Casey McGehee. McGehee was obtained for the fungible commodity of a reliever, namely Jose Veras.
McGehee had a down year in 2011 due to a thumb injury, but there may have been other issues on his mind, such as his son’s medical condition. Prior to McGehee’s 2011 season (.223/.280/.346 – 626 OPS, 69 OPS+), McGehee had a 126 OPS+ in 2009 and a 114 OPS+ in 2010. Although McGehee is scheduled to be the right-handed compliment of a platoon at 1B with Garrett Jones, he does not have extreme splits that warrants an arrangement. His career OPS versus right-handed pitchers is 747, while his OPS versus left-handed pitchers is 743.
His acquistion from the Brewers indicated that the Pirates are not going to wait on Pedro Alvarez all year. If Alvarez were to falter at the start of the year, McGehee would be installed at his natural position of 3B. If the assumption is made that Matt Hague will make the team at the outset of the year, a scenario exists where McGehee may spell Alvarez at 3B against tough left-handed pitchers, while Hague would play 1B against the same tough lefties. Hague does not hit as well against LHP in his minor league career, but he is not as anemic as Garrett Jones is against LHP (Jones’ career OPS is 601 against LHP).
The Pirates’ recent offseason signaled that the time to sift through players and “see what they have” is over. The addition of two veteran pitchers (Burnett and Bedard), a veteran catcher (Barajas), and a veteran shortstop (Barmes), and the trade for an established insurance policy that plays 3B (McGehee) shows that the Pirates are ready to move forward in the quest to procure a winning record and make the playoffs.
That is the correct way to do it. You can’t wait on only prospects to develop with no veteran alternative in the case they fail at the major league level or stall out in development in the minors. Alvarez needs to be in Pittsburgh at the start of the year (health issues aside) because the Pirates need to evaluate exactly what they have with him. If Alvarez were to go down to AAA and produce well for the first half of the year, then struggle the second half of 2012 in Pittsburgh, the refrain this offseason would be “We need to see more of Alvarez at the major league level, he was only here for half a year”. It would be an endless cycle of wait-and-see with him.
But if Alvarez does fail miserably in Pittsburgh or needs a break against left-handed pitching, the Pirates have his replacement in place and one that has succeeded at the major league level, including hitting for power at a power-hitting expected corner position.
All things being equal, Alvarez has more upside than McGehee, but at some point potential must lead to production. McGehee has produced two full successful seasons at the major league level. The Pirates also control McGehee’s rights for 2 more seasons after this one, so he’s not just a one year stopgap for 2012. Every Pirates fan wants Alvarez to succeed; the Pirates would be much more formidable with a 35 HR power hitter batting cleanup. But management has correctly decided that they can’t jeopardize the 2012 season in Pittsburgh waiting on Alvarez to develop.
McGehee gives the Pirates a valuable reserve plan that did not exist in 2011 when Brandon Wood and Josh Harrison were manning the hot corner.