Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Associate reporters Steven Miller and Chris Toman contributed to this story. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.
PITTSBURGH - Casey McGehee had the sense that he would be a removed spectator for the American League Division Series. When the Yankees need you at a time both of their All-Star corner infielders are disabled, there is a pretty good chance of finding yourself on the sidelines when October rolls around. What McGehee couldn't be as sure of is that the Pirates would be only watching, too. After all, he was sent to the Yankees in a July 31 Trade Deadline deal - for reliever Chad Qualls - by a Pittsburgh team that was riding high, in the standings and in the clubhouse alike. "When I left, I felt like they had a pretty good thing going," McGehee said. "It didn't really feel like they were playing over their heads or doing something that was totally absurd. You'd watch us play every night and it was kind of like, yeah, 'You kind of got it.'
"Probably the most surprising part was for them to go into that slide and not be able to climb out of it. It felt like the personality of the team was such that they would be able to move past a bad series or a bad week, and kind of right the ship." But McGehee became a big part of that personality in his four months with the team, following his acquisition in an offseason deal with Milwaukee, for reliever Jose Veras. The term "blue collar" is loosely thrown around, especially as it applies to a ball club playing in the Pirates' environment. McGehee, however, fit perfectly. His contributions to the Pirates exceeded the .230 average and 35 RBIs in 92 games, even the 6-for-14 off the bench that had made him the club's best pinch-hitter. His attitude was the chief reason Pirates players were upset by the trade; it's what they would miss the most. "They made quite a few changes around the Trade Deadline and you never know if the chemistry changed," McGehee said. Two of those moves removed vital contributors to the team's success: McGehee and versatile right-hander Brad Lincoln. The long-term jury remains out on those deals. McGehee essentially had to make room for Gaby Sanchez, who came from Miami for outfielder Gorkys Hernandez. Lincoln brought outfielder Travis Snider from Toronto. Snider, 24, and Sanchez, 28, can be major cornerstones moving forward. But the immediate effect was not positive. "I've talked to some of the guys," Lincoln said. "It's definitely something that they didn't want to go through, and I'm pretty sure it's tough. I haven't been there for what has happened, so I don't know. I couldn't tell you why." Both ex-Pirates felt the positive vibes upon their departure, and remain confident the team is on the right track. McGehee, though, hoped the missed 2012 opportunity won't be a setback. "I think they have a lot of good things to build on, but truth be told, I think the time to look at things to build on is starting to run out," McGehee said. "I think it's starting to get time to do it instead of having building blocks. I think they're getting to the point where they're about ready to do something. It would have been a nice feather in their cap to be able to, whether they made the postseason or not, to stick in it to the very end. You feel bad for them, two years in a row the same kind of thing happened." "The last two years have been nothing but good, I believe," said Lincoln who, unlike McGehee, was a Pirates product who had spent six years in the organization. "With [manager] Clint Hurdle and the management, the coaching staff, the players that have come through there, the people they have picked up -- there has definitely been a change there. "So even though these last two years the collapses in the second half have been devastating it's still something that is going to turn out good." "I know they have guys in the Minor Leagues on the mound that they really like," said McGehee, referring to high-upside right-handers Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon. "Them locking up [Andrew] McCutchen, I think that was a good statement to show the people of Pittsburgh they were serious about it. "You kind of got the sense that instead of changing directions all the time, they've got a direction picked out and they're going to go with it instead of trying to re-work it every year. It seems like they finally got it to where they want it to go."