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McGehee’s Future Uncertain

As a 26-year old rookie, Casey McGehee is finally getting a chance to contribute at the major league level.  This year, he’s made the most of it, hitting .306/.367/.522 in 291 at-bats, with 15 home runs and 57 RBI.  Despite the strong year, a big question still remains — is Casey McGehee for real?

Forgive the skeptics, because they have good reason.  His BABIP is at .330, much higher than the league average, leading many to believe that McGehee’s impressive numbers are largely lucky.  To put it simply, more balls are falling in for hits than they should, and it’s leading to some inflated statistics.  This seems to be confirmed by McGehee’s unspectacular numbers in the minors…while McGehee is currently sporting a pretty spiffy .890 OPS, he’s never OPS’ed higher than .776 in the Cubs’ minor league system.

Is it possible that McGehee is simply a late bloomer who’s finally figured it all out?  Sure.  But it’s also possible that the Brewers have another Bill Hall on their hands. 

Hall, as you’ll remember, never had great minor league numbers, either,
before putting together a very solid few seasons in the Majors.  The
rest is history — Hall got a big money extension, and regressed every
season thereafter before completely imploding this season.  

But let’s not assume that McGehee is the second coming of Hall.  For
one, McGehee will be cheap for quite awhile, assuming the Brewers keep
him around.  There’s also the fact that McGehee has shown much better
plate discipline throughout his career than Hall ever did — despite
never having a very impressive OPS, a low OBP was never the culprit.

The main thing that’s been curious about McGehee this year is the
sudden spike in his power numbers.  His career high SLG in the Cubs’
farm system was .429 last year for Triple A Iowa.  His SLG in Milwaukee
so far is nearly 100 points higher.

Casey McGehee is not a .500 SLG player — more than anything, that
number is due to a still relatively small sample size and would decline
if McGehee was ever to become an everyday player.  If it’s power the
Brewers want, they’re still better off playing Mat Gamel at third over
McGehee.  That doesn’t mean he’s a poor player; only that he really
can’t be expected to be much more than league average.

One of the biggest storylines this offseason — aside from whether or
not the Prince will have to give up his throne in Milwaukee — is what
will happen with McGehee.  It’s pretty clear that Mat Gamel should be
the starting third baseman on Opening Day next season (then again, it’s
pretty clear that he should be starting now, but it’s not happening). 
Rickie Weeks should be healthy and ready to go by Opening Day. 
Shortstop will be manned by either Alcides Escobar or J.J. Hardy.  So
where does that leave McGehee in the grand scheme of things?

He could certainly be useful as a super-sub, filling in sporadically at
second and third, while being the first pinch hit bat off the bench. 
We all know that it’s dangerous to assume a full season out of Weeks,
too — for all the improvement he was showing at the start of this
season, it’d be wise for the Brewers to keep around a bit of insurance
in either McGehee or Felipe Lopez.

The role in which McGehee is most valuable to the Brewers, though, is
possibly as trade bait…especially if he keeps hitting this way to end
the season.  Let’s assume McGehee keeps hitting this way to end the
season.  He’ll have racked up nearly 20 home runs in only 350 or so
ABs, put up a solid OBP, and provided protection in the lineup for one
of the biggest sluggers in the league.  Sure, some GMs will look at the
same stats we’re looking at and determine that it’s not worth giving up
much to get him.  But never underestimate the number of bad GM’s in the
league that might be willing to overpay for the kind of production
McGehee has given the Brewers this year.  All it takes is one GM to
decide that McGehee is worth a middle of the rotation starter or a
decent prospect, and suddenly a scrap heap pick up turns into a coup
for Doug Melvin.

As far as my own crazy trade ideas, it’s been rumored that the Braves
will be looking to move some of their starting pitching in order to
acquire a bat or two.  Would someone like Javier Vazquez be worth Casey
McGehee and Corey Hart?  Chipper Jones isn’t getting any younger and
probably can’t be counted on to play a full season, while the Braves
have shown interest in Hart in the past.  It might be a rare deal that
helps out both teams if Melvin is interested in competing in 2010.