PITTSBURGH -- Before getting into a few final Inbox questions to end the year, I wanted to take this opportunity to wish everyone a happy holiday season and a blessed New Year. Thank you for your interaction all year long and for your passion for Pirates baseball. This was an especially fun year to cover the team given the surprises of the summer and the numerous storylines that played out.
I, like you, am very much looking forward to seeing what 2012 has in store in Pittsburgh.
I wanted to ask you about Casey McGehee. Do you think he will play at first, or will he come off the bench? I think he would be more useful in a starting role because he can stay healthy and provide pop in the middle of the order. What are the Pirates' plans for him?
-- Derek S., Bradford, Pa.
McGehee is an interesting piece on this roster simply because he has the capability of filling a number of holes. He is an option to start at third if the Pirates don't get the production that they expect out of Pedro Alvarez. He is also in the mix to play first, since the Pirates don't have an obvious starting candidate. And if the club wants to begin the season with Alvarez at third and Garrett Jones at first, McGehee will be a bench player who can bring power as a pinch-hitter.
McGehee will earn whatever playing time he proves he deserves. If his level of production is near that of his 2011 season, McGehee is unlikely to take away substantial playing time from anyone else. However, if he finds a way to return to his 2009-10 form, the Pirates will find a way to make McGehee a regular part of the lineup. For a club needing a boost on offense, the Pirates can only hope McGehee pushes them to make tough decisions.
With Albert Pujols now an Angel, one would imagine that first basemen Mark Trumbo and Kendrys Morales are now on the block. Since Derrek Lee doesn't really want to return, could the Pirates go after either, and what would it take to get one of them?
-- Dennis W., Pittsburgh
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There is no question that the Angels have a surplus at first base now that Pujols is in town. However, there also doesn't seem to be a sense that Los Angeles feels like it has to trade Trumbo or Morales before the season starts. The Angels can get creative to keep those two involved if both remain.
That said, the Angels are in position to listen to offers. Trumbo would require more in return than Morales, who has missed most of the last two seasons. In fact, the Angels would likely have to be blown away with an offer to part with Trumbo, given his age and what he accomplished in 2012. This isn't to say the Pirates can't inquire about the asking price. But let it serve as a reminder that the Angels aren't in a position where they are just going to let loose a pair of accomplished first basemen.
What are the Pirates' plans for Jake Fox? If I recall correctly, he showed some good power last spring with the Orioles. Will he get a look as possibly a bat off the bench?
-- Justin M., Memphis, Tenn.
Fox is in that mix to win some playing time at first base, though the addition of McGehee likely lessens the chances of Fox playing all that much at first. Still, Fox's versatility is going to help his chances of making the club as one of five bench players. Fox can play either corner infield spot and can step in as a corner outfielder. He also has extensive experience catching, meaning that having him on the roster would give manager Clint Hurdle more flexibility in using his other two catchers.
Fox did have an impressive Spring Training showing last year, though that didn't translate to much more than an Opening Day roster spot. He hit just .246 with two homers and six RBIs in 27 big league games. In fact, in parts of four seasons in the Majors, Fox has never come close to the offensive production that made him stand out in the Minors.
While the Pirates like the versatility Fox would bring, ultimately he will only earn a spot on the roster if he can also prove that he can hit.
Do you know if the Pirates have recently approached Andrew McCutchen about a contract extension? Do you think he or the club is holding out? Is he hoping to be traded?
-- Jason W., Columbus, Ohio
The Pirates and McCutchen have had talks about a contract extension, though those discussions are not currently ongoing. The current silence has nothing to do with anyone holding out. It's simply a case of both sides not wanting to budge from their price. The club has a figure and number of years that it feels comfortable offering. McCutchen has a desired salary figure that he feels he deserves. If there is not compromise from both parties, don't expect something to get done.
The good news is that McCutchen cannot become a free agent until after the 2015 season, so he is not going anywhere soon. And no, he is not hoping to be traded, nor are the Pirates looking to trade him. But the closer McCutchen gets to his free-agent years, the less likely a long-term agreement will be reached.
It probably doesn't hurt to remind you to withhold judgment on this topic, too. We don't know what McCutchen is asking for or what the Pirates are offering. Therefore, it's unfair to label one as greedy or one as cheap.
I was wondering about the status of two pitchers the Pirates acquired in trades a few years back. Where are Tim Alderson and Kevin Hart?
-- Bryan S., Oil City, Pa.
Hart, who was a part of the deal that sent Tom Gorzelanny and John Grabow to Chicago in 2009, became a free agent after the Pirates took him off the 40-man roster in late October. He missed the entire season with right shoulder issues and hasn't pitched in the Majors since '09.
Alderson spent 2011 with the Pirates' Double-A affiliate in Altoona. He started at that level when he was acquired in exchange for Freddy Sanchez in '09 and has not yet been able to move up. The Pirates did transition Alderson to a relief role in 2011, and that is likely where he'll remain.