McGehee might be best Pirates can do

Casey McGehee

The acquisition of third baseman Casey McGehee might have represented the highest-profile upgrade the Pirates will make to their offense this winter, and that's not saying much.

McGehee, 29, bombed out in Milwaukee last season with a .223 average and 13 home runs in a hitter's park. The previous year, he had been a force in the lineup behind Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but his struggles have been epic at points since then. He lost his job in the playoffs to Jerry Hairston Jr.

The Pirates say they have statistics to show he was somewhat unlucky, and they'd better be right.

"The numbers behind the numbers tell some of the story," GM Neal Huntington said. "Some of it was mechanics, some of it was league adjustments, some of it was early struggles, some of it was just bad luck."

Barring further upgrade, McGehee will either function as insurance in case promising-but-unproductive Pedro Alvarez goes through another .191 mess, or he'll split time at first base -- very much a secondary position -- with Garrett Jones, who batted .243 with 16 home runs. That explains why Huntington continues to seek a first baseman, including not giving up on the return of Derrek Lee.

A lineup with McGehee at first would leave the Pirates with an everyday eight in which five players batted .240 or lower last season and in which the total of home runs hit was a measly 88. That's coming nowhere near Huntington's stated goal early in the offseason of "finding more offense." It's hard to see how the lineup has improved at all.

McGehee was acquired in a trade that sent right-hander Jose Veras to the Brewers. The Pirates felt they had more than enough bullpen depth, and it's possible they were going to non-tender Veras.

NOTES, QUOTES

--3B Pedro Alvarez will enter 2012 as the Pirates' default starter, GM Neal Huntington said, but newcomer Casey McGehee will be the parachute if Alvarez falters again. "It remains Pedro Alvarez's job to keep, but Casey certainly gives us a viable regular option on either corner," Huntington said.

--RHP Chris Resop and RHP Jason Grilli were tendered arbitration contracts in something of a surprise. Both were effective in tight situations last season, and both again could be setup men for closer Joel Hanrahan. "I came away from last season with nothing but positive things," Grilli said. "I wanted to come back to the Pirates."

--RHP Evan Meek is recovering well from the shoulder injury that pretty much foiled his 2011 season, but it's likely that he'll return to a true setup role only gradually. "Everything is geared toward being 100 percent ready to come into spring training and win a job, and then to have the year next year that I had in 2010," Meek said, referring to his All-Star season.

--RHP Brad Lincoln and LHP Jeff Locke will be the top candidates for rotation duty if RHP Charlie Morton does not recover quickly enough from offseason hip surgery. It would appear the Pirates aren't going to add more starting pitching.

--OF Nate McLouth, back in the fold after three poor years in Atlanta, will be seen more as a supplement to both corners, LF Jose Tabata and RF Alex Presley, than a true bench guy. Tabata has a history of injury and Presley is inexperienced, so neither will be expected to take 500-plus at-bats.

BY THE NUMBERS: 88 -- Total home runs hit in 2011 by what appears to be the Pirates' everyday eight for 2012.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whether or not it works in Florida, time will tell. It didn't work here." -- Pirates president Frank Coonelly, on the Marlins dramatically increasing payroll as they move into a new ballpark.

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