After a successful 2013 season in Japan, former Brewers fan favorite Casey McGehee has let it be known that he would be open to return to a MLB team. In 120 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, McGehee hit .306 BA / .922 OPS / 24 HR / 81 RBI. McGehee spent the majority of the season (107 games) manning third base but also played 17 games at first. Following an injury plagued season from Aramis Ramirez and a black hole of badness at first base, could McGehee be a good fit for the 2014 Brewers?
The simple answer is “Yes”. The Brewers have a history with McGehee and a need at the positions he plays. Meanwhile, McGehee was only under contract for the 2013 season with the Golden Eagles. So, technically, a reunion could happen. But the more important question is if one should happen.
The history between the Brewers and McGehee had both highs and lows. Following the 2008 season, the Brewers claimed McGehee off waivers from the Cubs. To start the 2009 season, McGehee was a bench player but became a starter when injuries and an ineffective Bill Hall opened the door for him. McGehee posted a .301 BA / .859 OPS / 16 HR / 66 RBI that season and even placed fifth in NL Rookie of the Year voting. (FYI – Andrew McCutchen was fourth in ROY voting, not that far ahead of McGehee in points. The Marlins Chris Coghlan won the 2009 NL ROY and hasn’t played more than 91 games in a season at the major league level since.)
After his breakout 2009 campaign, McGehee became the Brewers everyday third baseman in 2010. He hit .285 BA / .801 OPS / 23 HR / 104 RBI and was voted the Brewers’ Most Valuable Player. While 2011 was a banner season for the Crew, as a team, McGehee struggled mightily. His offensive production took a huge dip (.233 BA / .626 OPS / 13 HR / 67 RBI) and, by committing 20 errors, his defense didn’t do him any favors either. When the playoffs rolled around, Jerry Hairston Jr. had supplanted McGehee as the Brewers starting third baseman.
When the Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez, prior to the 2012 season, McGehee became expendable. So the Brewers traded him to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jose Veras. The Pirates primarily used McGehee as a first baseman, playing him there for 77 games compared to only 9 at third base. McGehee played unremarkable ball and was eventually traded to the Yankees – where he saw limited playing time. The Yankees even optioned McGehee to Class-A Charleston for a few days before being recalled once rosters were expanded in September. Between the Pirates and Yankees, McGehee played in 114 games and hit .217 BA / .643 OPS / 9 HR / 41 RBI. Following the season, interest in McGehee waned at the major league level. So he signed a one-year, $1.5 M contract to play with the Golden Eagles in the Japan Pacific League.
McGehee will be 31 next season and, while his up tick in offense is encouraging, there’s no guarantee that it will translate into renewed success at the major league level. That said, even though McGehee struggled in 2011 and 2012, he still posted a (–)0.1 fWAR both seasons. Compare that to Yuniesky Betancourt, who was 31 this season and compiled a (–)1.8 fWAR. As a veteran bat with a versatile infield glove, McGehee could be a good fit to take over Betancourt’s role on the Brewers’ roster.
Of course, McGehee’s return to the Brewers would come with caveats. Given his track record, McGehee couldn’t be counted on as an everyday player and would have to be happy coming back as a role player. In addition, he might also have to take a pay cut. McGehee made $1.5 M with the Golden Eagles, this year, while the Brewers shelled out $900,000 for Betancourt.
All of this also depends on how the Brewers handle the void at first in the off-season. Many decisions will hinge on whether the team finds an everyday first baseman, commits to a platoon, or decides to give one of their young players a shot at the job. Once that decision is made, the rest of the roster can come into focus. But, as we learned this year, it isn’t a bad idea to make sure the roster has a veteran with first base experience. That makes McGehee an interesting option for the Brewers to keep in the back of their mind.