Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reaction: Pirates trade Jose Veras for Casey McGehee

On Monday, the Pirates made perhaps their biggest move of the offseason.  In a trade that came out of nowhere, the Pirates sent reliever Jose Veras to Milwaukee in exchange for infielder Casey McGehee.  I break down the trade and offer my opinion after the jump.
Relievers are inherently volatile.  Elite relievers seem to appear out of thin air, and before anyone can really take notice of them, they vanish.  There are exceptions, like Mariano Rivera, who has been the definition of a shutdown closer for decades.  However, turnover is the norm.  Pirates pitcher Evan Meek is a prime example.  He essentially came out of nowhere as a rule 5 pick, made it to major leagues in 2009, and then became a dominant set up man in 2010.  However, Meek came back down to earth this past season, struggling with injuries and only pitching ~20 innings. 

Jose Veras stepped into the setup role last year in Meek's stead.  Veras pitched fairly well, posting a 3.80 ERA and 3.50 FIP.  Veras has nasty stuff as his 10.01 K/9 rate shows, but he has trouble controlling it at times, as indicated by his 4.31 BB/9 rate.  Those numbers are in line with Veras's career numbers, with a small bit of improvement in each category.  Last year, Veras was worth 0.5 WAR.  He's already 31, so I'm skeptical that Veras is ever going to improve his control enough to be more effective than he was last year for the Pirates.  In addition, Veras has two more years of control including this one and so he will become a free agent after 2013.  So that's what the Pirates gave up.  What did they get in return?

2011 was supposed to be a big year for the Brewers.  Prince Fielder was in his last year of team control and would become a free agent after the season.  So the Brewers traded away several top prospects to acquire Zach Greinke and Shaun Marcum and make a serious run at a playoff spot.  The Brewers, who believed third base was set with McGehee, did end up making the playoffs, but McGehee had very little to do with that.

McGehee had a dismal 2011.  He hit .223/.280/.346 for a wOBA of .272 and a 68 wRC+.  McGehee did field well in 2011in a small sample size, contrary to his career numbers that suggest he is a slightly below-average with the glove at 3B.  Combining all that, McGehee only put up 0.3 WAR last year in 155 games.

The two years prior though, McGehee had solid, if not very good, years.  In 2009, McGehee put up 2.0 WAR and then bettered that in 2010, putting 3.3 WAR.  This largely came out of a .367 wOBA in 2009 and a .346 wOBA in 2010.  McGehee managed to keep his plate discipline consistent in 2010, and while his ISO did drop some, that was mainly a function of average.  McGehee's low average came from an unlucky BABIP in 2011, of .249, compared to a .290 BABIP for his career.  To me, it seems like the simple normalization of his BABIP could put McGeehe back in the 2.5 WAR range.

If McGeehe had put up 2.5 WAR over the course of a full season last year, he would have been the 3rd most valuable positional player last year for the Pirates.  McGehee just turned 29 in November, so he's not particularly old.  In addition, he has 3 years of control left and won't become a free agent until after 2014.  The only real issue with McGeehe is where does he play. Assuming Pedro starts the year at 3B, and if he hopefully excels, then McGehee can play 1B, where he should have enough bat if he returns to his 2009 and 2010 levels.   It also might make more sense if Pedro does begin to hit, to move Pedro to 1B, and let McGehee start at 3B.  That's also being optimistic in regards to Pedro, and it never hurts to have a contingency plan, which is what McGehee is according to Neal Huntington.  Huntington stated, "Casey McGehee adds a quality option for us at both corner infield positions and adds depth to our player position group."

Not a bad return for a good, but expendable reliever, at least if you as me.