I know, it sounds ridiculous — a 38-year old career utility man with a 27 homers in 14 years and a .608 OPS making an impact on the upstart 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates? Please.
But you know, there’s a reason why John McDonald has been around the league for so long.
Normally, I’d take the numbers’ side of an argument when it comes to player evaluation, but I’ll make an exception for McDonald here.
After all, there was a reason why he became a fan favourite while he played his six-plus seasons with the Toronto Blue Jays. When he was traded as a part of a change-of-scenery deal for Aaron Hill, the veteran was moved in part so he could take part in a playoff run. There, he was called “the ultimate professional” by Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson.
There’s a reason for that too — the intangible quality of leadership and the ability to be a ‘good clubhouse guy’. In short: he can be the glue to the team.
Now, thanks to a logjam in the Arizona infield, McDonald is in Pittsburgh, and there’s no reason why he can’t bring the same qualities to the young franchise that he did to the Diamondbacks.
McDonald is reunited with former teammates Travis Snider and A.J. Burnett, and while he would be silly to expect him to do too much at the plate, he will bring with him eye-catching defense, and you can probably expect him to be a morale-booster all year long — both on the field and off.
That kind of role is not quantified by numbers, but when clubhouses don’t work out, the (often messy) on-field results are usually quite apparent (ie. 2012 Boston Red Sox).
For an underdog team that will be relying on the upside of players like Pedro Alvarez and Starling Marte to make noise in the NL East, a clubhouse spark plug like McDonald is going to have a significant role to keep things from unraveling when they’re not going right.
It’s saying a lot for someone who has only been a 2.9 fWAR player over his entire decade-plus career, but if you were to ask any of his teammates from either Toronto or Arizona, I’d doubt they’d say he’s worth less than three wins over the years.
The numbers won’t back that up, but if McDonald ends up being the final complimentary piece that the Pirates need in order to be a surprise in the win-loss column in 2013? I doubt anyone on the team would care.