The Miami Marlins signed Casey McGehee to a one-year deal worth $1.1 million one year after a successful campaign in Japan. Of the three stopgap signings the Fish made, this one seemed to the best one. At the time of the signing, I pointed out how it might be an upside play at a low cost.
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.
The Marlins did not pay McGehee $3.5 million like they did Rafael Furcal or $7.5 million over two years like they did Garrett Jones. For one year at $1.55 million (the additional cost of his playing time incentive), the Marlins got a guy who was 31 years old and might bounce back after spending time essentially in the minors last year. The worst that could have happened was that McGehee was as bad as advertised, after which the Marlins could have shaved him this offseasson at little to no cost.
The good thing that could have happened is exactly what happened in 2014. McGehee went on an extended hot streak in the first half of the season and was one of the better third basemen in the National League at the time. McGehee hit .319/.386/.391 (.346 wOBA) in the first half, riding a .369 BABIP to fantastic results in terms of singles. He was more disciplined at the plate, taking more pitches out of the strike zone and making contact on a career-high number of pitches. McGehee attributed some of his success to a newfound approach in Japan, but the truth is that he has had success doing this in the past; his plate discipline profile this year looked very similar to the one he had in his rookie season in 2009, when he had a career-best season by batting .301/.360/.499 (.370 wOBA) on the year.
McGehee was a Final Vote candidate and had a chance at an All-Star appearance after his strong two-win first half. But I warned that regression could be on its way, and that without a return of his power, it might be a rough second half.
The other aspects of his game are still waiting to resolve themselves. The Marlins need to see if his drop in batting average will be made up for by an increase in home run power; McGehee has hit only one homer this season and has an ISO of less .100. He is hitting fly balls with less authority this season than in his career, with an average distance of 263 feet in 2014 versus 291 feet for his career. If this is a sign of true power decline, it might bode poorly for him and the Fish going forward.
Sure enough, McGehee's power never resurfaced. He only hit three more home runs in the second half and hit for a worse ISO than he did in that punchless first half, and that was part of what turned into a quietly horrific second half. All of McGehee's strong play was nearly eliminated by a .243/.310/.310 (.282 wOBA) batting line that was rough to watch. The Marlins kept him despite him being an intriguing trade candidate, and the team paid for it with his struggles. The BABIP fell as expected and then some, as he hit just .284 on balls in play after the All-Star break.
The negatives of the second half of the season were evident, but the Marlins should not deny the overall value of McGehee in 2014. Despite the replacement level second half, he still put up close to a league average season overall, and that came with almost no power attached. Just one season prior. McGehee hit 29 homers in the Japanese league, meaning his power is likely to have not just disappeared off the face of the planet. He may not be the extra-base machine he was in 2010, but McGehee may still have a chance at better power next year, and some of those plate discipline gains may be real enough. The production he provided this year should be enough to coax Miami to keep him for another year with limited options.
And given that McGehee is up for a final year of arbitration, the Fish should get that season on a very cheap salary. McGehee may make $3.5 million next season, and while he probably will not be a two-win player, the Marlins could count on 1.5 wins in a healthy year at this point. For a cheap initial investment, McGehee is providing good returns and should be a part of next season's plans.