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2014 Marlins Key Questions: Casey McGehee's return

The next important question for the Miami Marlins in the 2014 season is how Casey McGehee will fare in his return stateside after a successful season in Japan.

The Marlins will depend on Casey McGehee's bat and defense at third base this year.
The Marlins will depend on Casey McGehee's bat and defense at third base this year.
Tom Szczerbowski

The Miami Marlins have nine important questions to answer for this upcoming 2014 season, and the next one on the list involves the team's last free agent addition, right-handed third baseman Casey McGehee. The Fish picked up McGehee on a $1.1 million deal with incentives to reach if he hits certain plate appearances. To hit those appearances, he needs to succeed in a way he has not done since 2011.

Can McGehee pull it off? His season in Japan speaks well of him, as he hit .292/.375/.515 with 29 home runs in 590 plate appearances primarily playing third base for the Rakuten Golden Eagles last year. He helped lead the offense to a Japan Series victory for the Golden Eagles, and there is something to the success he found last season in Japan.

But playing in Japan is akin to playing at a level between Double- and Triple-A. The last time he was playing at those levels, he was batting ,296/.345/.429 in Triple-A Iowa in 2008. On the one hand, his performance falls in line with that performance from back in 2008. signifying that, after two bad seasons at the plate, it is possible that McGehee has found what makes him work best at the plate. It is also possible that, with the shorter fences and other amenities in Japan, McGehee looked like a better player than he actually is.

We know that Japan is an easier location to hit than the big leagues, thanks primarily to the competition. But the projections of McGehee heading into this season are not out of line. Steamer thinks he will hit .241/.306/.386 (.304 wOBA). Oliver is projecting a .249/.332/.408 (.325 wOBA) line. If the truth is somewhere in between those two and closer to his career .317 wOBA, the Marlins would be thrilled to have McGehee on the club.

How thrilled? Last season, Marlins third basemen hit .248/.315/.300 as a collective group. That essentially is the expected McGehee batting line minus any of the power he is sure to provide. All McGehee has to do to beat that is provide some pop, and even with the home run situation in Japan, it seems reasonable that he could bring 15 homers to the table in a full season.

But the alternatives for the Marlins were not last year's players at those performances. The likely player to replace McGehee would have been Donovan Solano. How much better is McGehee than Solano? Presuming their projections based on the average from Steamer and Oliver, the difference between McGehee and Solano offensively is about eight runs. If you consider the platoon situation with Garrett Jones, the number could climb up to as much as 10 runs.

Those above figures do not include defense, however. The Marlins have to figure that McGehee, who has played first base fairly regularly in his career, is probably worse than Solano at the hot corner. If McGehee is up to five runs below average per season, then the difference between Solano and him is about half a win overall. Half a win is a small squabble for a Fish team not aiming very high next season.

The expectation next year is that McGehee may be half a win better than the team's in-house alternatives. Is that worth the potential for $1.5 million of added salary? The team deemed it acceptable, and the club could always find a trade partner for a small asset later on in the season. McGehee's return is unlikely to help or hurt the Fish this year.