Casey McGehee signing: Marlins make low-cost, upside signing

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

There is a chance that Casey McGehee turns out to be as bad as he was in the majors in 2012. The Miami Marlins are only paying $1.1 million to find out, and that is a reasonable cost.

After the Miami Marlins made a number of moves to add lefty power to their roster, they finally balanced it out with some right-handed presence at the plate. Yesterday, the team signed free agent Casey McGehee to a one-year, $1.1 million deal that should make him the team's starting third baseman this season. McGehee fills the team's need for a right-handed bat who can play both third and first base and is coming with almost no cost investment for Miami. He is also not much of an upgrade over what Miami already has.

On the Field

The Marlins are counting on McGehee to help be a right-handed anchor to a roster that has gotten increasingly left-handed. McGehee provides one other thing that the Fish have been lacking as well: power. Aside from Giancarlo Stanton, the Marlins boast no power from the right-handed side, so the team is hoping that the 27 homers McGehee put up in Japan in 2013 can port to a degree over to the states this season. In his four years in the majors, McGehee averaged just under 18 homers per 600 plate appearances, but much of that came from his successful first two years rather than his putrid final two. He owns a career .158 ISO at the plate, and that seems like a reasonable estimate of his power; not great but not bad.

For a team that boasted Placido Polanco and Ed Lucas primarily at third base in 2013, McGehee's power production is probably more than acceptable. The Fish will also ask him to platoon with free agent signing Garrett Jones, and that should be another area in which McGehee excels. In 2010, he hit .316/.358/.589 (.400 wOBA) versus left-handed pitching in 176 plate appearances, but since then his performance has been dragged down enough to give him even platoon splits. For his career, McGehee has hit .254/.324/.419 (.323 wOBA) versus lefties and .258/.310/.413 (.315 wOBA) versus righties. The fact that his split is not great actually serves the Marlins better, as he is expected to play full-time and only spell Jones at first base versus left-handers. The team would much prefer a consistently acceptable presence at the plate in this spot rather than someone with wide splits who could hurt the team on 65 percent of his plate appearances.

It is important that McGehee is expected to be acceptable at the plate, because he essentially is not acceptable elsewhere. UZR and Baseball Prospectus's FRAA metrics have him being a decent defensive player, but the scouting reports do not support that and neither does DRS. McGehee likely is not eight runs worse than average per season nor is he league average, but it would be safe to assume he is below average at third base. He is also a terrible baserunner, having cost his team 10 to 14 runs on the bases over the course of his career. That negative value tends to negate a lot of positive work for McGehee coming out of a successful season in Japan.

Projection

The projection systems see McGehee as about a one-win player in almost 500 plate appearances (between 1.1 and 1.3 wins with Steamer and ZiPS projections, respectively). Steamer is projecting a .241/.306/.386 (.304 wOBA) batting line and 13 homers in 476 plate appearances.

Is that enough performance to make the signing worthwhile? Absolutely. At $1.1 million (with incentives adding up to potentially more), the Marlins are not asking for much production. Essentially, McGehee is being paid like a bench player and asked to start because the team has no idea what it will get out of him. He had a good year in Japan, but the Nippon Professional Baseball league is currently somewhere in between Double-A and Triple-A in terms of competitive level. The last time he was in the bigs, McGehee was downright terrible. The team took a low-cost gamble on him to see if he could fill the role they need.

Miami could afford to do this because their alternatives are barely any worse. Donovan Solano is expected to be a one-win player through 600 plate appearances, so McGehee is expected to be just a half-win upgrade over him. And that projection includes some generous defense expectations; if McGehee plays worse at third, the team could be looking at essentially making no improvement to the team.

So why make the move? There is upside to see if McGehee can return to two-win form. There is also his presence as a decent right-handed bat versus left-handed pitching to platoon with Jones. If he fails as a regular player, Miami can slot Solano or Lucas and not lose a significant beat, and McGehee can take over as a platoon partner only.

For one year, the Fish could have done worse. Last year, both of their one-year veteran stopgaps took a significant turn for the worse and essentially represented the worst that could happen in those signings. There is almost no way that McGehee, at age 31, will collapse as badly as Polanco or Juan Pierre, so this signing is a better move for Miami than last year's fliers.

What do you Fish Stripers think? Good move or bad? Neutral? Let us know in the comments.

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