By John Perrotto
The Pirates have spent the offseason looking for a starting first baseman and a third baseman who might or could take over the position on a full-time basis should Pedro Alvarez falter in spring training.
Casey McGehee could fit either need for the Pirates in 2012.
The Pirates acquired the 29-year-old infielder from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade Monday night for relief pitcher Jose Veras. McGehee became expendable after the Brewers signed free agent third baseman Aramis Ramirez to a three-year, $36-million contract.
“Casey McGehee adds a quality option for us at both corner infield groups,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
The primary question concerning McGehee, though, is whether he is a late bloomer or a flash in the pan?
The Brewers claimed McGehee off waivers from the Chicago Cubs, where ironically enough he was blocked at third base by Ramirez, following the 2008 season. McGehee then had two fine seasons with the Brewers as their primary third baseman.
In 2009, he hit .301 with 16 home runs, 66 RBIs, a .360 on-base percentage and a .499 slugging percentage in 116 games and 394 plate appearances. He followed that in 2010 by batting .285 with 23 homers, 104 RBIs, a .337 OBP and a .464 slugging percentage.
However, his numbers dipped dramatically last season when his batting average fell to .223 to go with 13 homers, 67 RBIs, a .280 OBP and a .346 slugging percentage in 155 games and 600 plate appearances. McGehee did not start any of the Brewers’ 11 postseason games as he was benched in favor of veteran utility infielder Jerry Hairston Jr.
One scout who covers the National League Central regularly for an NL team believes McGehee is definitely on the downside.
“He lost a lot of bat speed last year and he didn’t drive the ball very much, made a lot of weak contact when I saw him on off-speed pitches on the outer half of the plate,” the scout said. “I don’t think he’s a real good fit in (PNC Park). He likes to pull the ball and left field there is where fly balls go to die for right-handed pull hitters.”
McGehee is considered a slightly above average defensive third base with only decent range and quickness but an accurate arm.
McGehee is eligible for salary arbitration for the first time this winter after making $478,000 last season. His salary is likely to be in the $3 million-$3.5 million range next season.
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates and Major League Baseball since 1988.
Notes: The Pirates announced that the team has agreed to terms on a one year deal with reliever Jason Grilli. The deal is worth $1.1 million. Grilli posted a 2.48 ERA in 32 2/3 innings with the Pirates last season.