There are a couple of really nice things we can safely say about Casey McGehee, the World Champion San Francisco Giants’ new third baseman…
1. McGehee’s better than the close-to-hand alternatives, and
2. the Giants didn’t give up much to get him.
And those are two pretty nice things!
Before the Giants acquired McGehee from the Marlins, Joaquin Arias was No. 1 on the depth chart at third base. Arias is 30, has started 70 games at third base in his whole career, and sports a 652 career OPS (82 OPS+). He’s an occasionally useful utilityman, but obviously has no business playing every day. Meanwhile, McGehee played almost every day in Japan in 2013 and almost every day in the National League in 2014.
To get McGehee, the Giants traded two young Dominican (i.e. undrafted) pitchers, Luis Castillo and Kendry Flores, to the Marlins. Both have done some nice things in the low minors, but neither was included in a recent list of the Giants’ 20 best prospects.
Granted, Francisco Liriano probably wouldn’t have ranked among the Giants’ 20 best prospects when they included him, 11 years ago, in the package that netted A.J. Pierzynski. But for every Liriano, there are 50 guys you’ve never heard of.
Here’s a not-so-nice thing we can safely say about Casey McGehee: He’s just barely good enough to play every day in the majors. Once a promising young(ish) player, McGehee posted a couple of solid seasons with the Brewers, when he was 26 and 27. Then he struggled for a couple of seasons, which is why he spent a season in Japan. Yes, his 2014 represented a nifty comeback with the Marlins … but he also was just a league-average hitter with roughly league-average defense, too. Our best guess is that McGehee will be slightly better than replacement level, which means he’ll actually be a modest bargain with a salary in the $4 million range.
Hey, that’s another nice thing!
Really, trading for Casey McGehee is worth criticizing only if there’s some reasonable reason to think the Giants are missing something obvious about those two marginal pitching prospects. Which seems at the moment unlikely.
Oh, and you want to know a dirty little secret? Pablo Sandoval hasn’t been so great lately. Going from Panda to Casey is obviously a downgrade, but the projected cost is something like two wins over the course of a whole season … and it’s really not so difficult to make up two wins over the course of a whole season.
So the Giants’ problem isn’t that they’ve replaced a star third baseman with an aging third baseman coming off a perfectly average season. The Giants’ problem is that they’ve done nothing to add a couple of wins somewhere else. They’ve still got a big hole in left field, and no decent candidate for the fifth slot in the pitching rotation; well, unless you think Tim Lincecum deserves that job (and maybe he does).
From here, it looks like the Giants’ best hope lies in the four starting pitchers who are locked into the rotation. They can certainly hope that Matt Cain comes back strong; that 39-year-old Tim Hudson pitches so well again; that Yusmeiro Petit’s six late-season starts were for real; and that Madison Bumgarner is sportsman of the year (rather than just of October).
I don’t expect another losing season like 2013. But you know, a bunch of teams in the National League are really trying to win now, and it is (mostly) a zero-sum affair. While the Giants should be competitive, we shouldn’t be surprised if their record next season doesn’t match their payroll, which figures as the second- or third-highest in the whole league. Hey, maybe bad contracts really do come back and bite you sometimes?
Update: I was working off this depth chart that does not account for the recent re-signing of Jake Peavy (which apparently isn’t quite official yet). Peavy’s signing does help, but he doesn’t figure to pitch much better than Ryan Vogelsong did last season (which I know seems a little crazy but is largely true).