Posted November 24, 2013

Yankees sign Brian McCann to five-year, $85 million deal

Atlanta Braves, Brian McCann, Hot Stove, New York Yankees
Brian McCann, Braves

Brian McCann went to his seventh All-Star Game in 2013 with the Atlanta Braves. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

When the free-agency period began, one signing everyone promised would happen was the Yankees grabbing catcher Brian McCann. The prospective deal made sense for both sides: The Yankees needed a catcher for 2013 and beyond and had a lot of money to throw at that problem, and McCann needed a new team and presumably likes money. And so the prediction has come to pass, as New York signed the former Brave to a five-year, $85 million deal Saturday. The agreement—which includes a vesting option for a sixth year that bumps the total package up to $100 million and has a full no-trade clause—makes McCann the highest paid catcher in all of baseball and helps the Yankees shore up a position that was, to put it charitably, a complete and utter disaster last season.

McCann, a Georgia native and second-round draft pick out of high school by Atlanta in 2002, has spent all nine seasons of his major-league career with the Braves. McCann rocketed through the minor leagues, debuting with the Braves in June of 2005 at the tender age of 21, then burst onto the scene in his sophomore season, posting a career-best .333/.388/.572 line with 24 homers, 93 RBI and an OPS+ of 143 over 492 plate appearances. Though he slipped to a .772 OPS in 2007, he rebounded with another sterling line of .301/.373/.523 in 2008, and posted an OPS of .800 or better for the next three seasons.

An oblique injury suffered in 2011, however, led to McCann changing his approach at the plate to be more of a pull hitter. Combined with a right shoulder injury that turned out to be a torn labrum, McCann struggled through a 2012 season that saw him post career lows in virtually every offensive category. McCann underwent surgery on the shoulder after the season finished, a procedure that cost him the first five weeks of 2013, but the veteran catcher rebounded with a .256/.336/.461 triple slash more in line with his career averages.

At a glance, McCann’s 2013 stats don’t reveal any major issues. The low average and on-base percentage were likely the result of bad luck on balls in play (.261 BABIP despite a line-drive percentage of 22.3), while his power numbers were closer to his heyday than his poor 2012. If there is one concern, though, it’s McCann’s performance against fastballs. From 2007 through 2011, McCann hit a robust .281 with a .483 slugging percentage, .202 isolated power and .295 BABIP on four-seamers. Since then, though, those numbers have dropped considerably. In his injury-plagued 2012, McCann hit only .248/.438 against four-seamers, then followed that up with a .228/.404 line in 2013. Stats show a hitter who was persistently late on fastballs all season, routinely popping them up.

As a lefthander, McCann has also had increasing problems with southpaws. Last season, McCann managed a paltry .231/.279/.337 line against lefties, striking out 22 times versus just four walks and three home runs. That’s down from a .673 OPS in 2012 and a .794 mark in 2011. In fact, it’s just the second time in McCann’s career as a full-time player that he’s had an OPS under .650 against left-handers, joining 2009. Again, it was the fastball that gave McCann the most trouble against left-handers, with a .191 average and .262 slugging percentage against four-seamers from lefties last season.

The Yankees have to hope that McCann’s problems with heaters and left-handers can be reversed. After all, it’s McCann’s left-handed power stroke that made him such an attractive option to New York, with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium seemingly tailor-made for McCann. With 81 games in Yankee Stadium, as well as the friendlier hitting environs of the American League, it’s a safe bet that McCann will eclipse his career-high in home runs (24) without too much trouble.

Problems or not, the Yankees seemingly had little other recourse than to give McCann a giant pile of cash. Last season was a mess for the Yankees behind the plate, with a cast of rookies and cast-off veterans amassing a brutal .213/.289/.298 line at catcher. That .587 OPS was the fifth-worst in all of baseball last season at catcher, and only the Miami Marlins got less power out of the position than the Yankees. The biggest culprits in the catcher disaster were well-traveled veteran Chris Stewart (.211/.293/.272 in 340 plate appearances) and Austin Romine (.207/.255/.296 in 148 PAs), both of whom were pressed into active duty when a fractured hand and a steroids suspension cut short ostensible starter Francisco Cervelli’s season after just 17 games.

The Yankees did have a backup plan of sorts in their farm system in the form of top prospect Gary Sanchez, who posted a .744 OPS at age 20 in Double-A Trenton last season. But Sanchez’s defense is still apparently a work in progress, and the Yankees likely want him to master Double-A pitching before entertaining thoughts of big-league games, which puts him out of New York’s plans until at least 2015. Faced with the prospect of once again turning to the Cerberus of suck that was Stewart, Romine and Cervelli, the Yankees had almost no choice but to bring in McCann.

Nonetheless, the five-year deal represents some serious risk on the Yankees’ part, given how hard McCann was worked in Atlanta. As a Brave, McCann caught 1,046 games, becoming only the 26th player in major-league history to catch over 1,000 games by the age of 30. Few of those players remained productive past that point. Catchers like Ted Simmons (1,557 games by the time he turned 30), Gary Carter (1,407), Jason Kendall (1,252) and Lance Parrish (1,146) all saw their offensive output plummet post 30. Others went from heavy starter workloads to primarily backup work within a few years of passing 30. Tim McCarver was no longer a regular starter by 31; Yogi Berra was more or less done as a full-time catcher by 34; Mike Scioscia retired at 33. The Braves certainly got their money’s worth from McCann, but it’s far from certain that the Yankees will.

The key, then, will be the progress of Sanchez. If he can keep climbing up the ranks at a good pace and emerge as a viable starter talent by 2015 or ’16, he’ll provide a cheap and valuable fall-back option should McCann succumb to the ravages of time. But if he stalls out or busts like fellow former Yankees catching prospect Jesus Montero, New York will be in the unenviable position of hoping a catcher in his 30s making $17 million a year can beat the odds and remain productive.

For the immediate future, however, McCann should be a huge boost to the Yankees. His power, defense and pitch-calling should all be marked improvements over last season’s dreck, and his contract won’t cripple New York when it comes to other signings. He’s unlikely to be the three- or four-win player he was in his prime with Atlanta, but he’ll be a sizable upgrade for a team that can’t afford another non-contending season.

As for Atlanta, the Braves will likely go forward at catcher with some combination of Evan Gattis, top prospect Christian Bethancourt and veteran backup Gerald Laird. Whether the Braves will try to add any other pieces to that group remains to be seen. McCann’s departure also nets the Braves a compensatory draft pick as a result of the qualifying offer he turned down, while the Yankees lose their first-round pick.

With McCann and Carlos Ruiz now off the table, the best remaining catcher on the free-agent market is another former Brave: Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Already an attractive option for teams because of the lack of draft-pick compensation required to sign him, Saltalamacchia will presumably be heavily pursued by anyone still looking for a catcher. That includes his last employer, the Red Sox, as well as the Rockies, who reportedly made a late push for McCann, and other catcher-needy squads like the Blue Jays, White Sox and Rangers.

41 comments
blue4393
blue4393

Russell Martin 2yrs/16M seems like a bargain now.  Martin superior defensively.  McCann superior offensive ability is not a given.

gymviking
gymviking

McCann, Texeira, Jeter - The Yankees are building their disabled list one expensive piece at a time.

x72
x72

Prob will be the best signing of this off-season.

Thomas85
Thomas85

Yankees= The best there ever was and sorry all you idiots with a stupid at best opinion, the best there ever will be! Watch your stupid Cashman put together another dynasty, then we will see who's stupid. So shut up stupid

nunEEE6
nunEEE6

Everything Cashman has done over the last year and a half has made no sense.  Refused to give Russell Martin, a proven solid defender with some pop in his bat a 2 year deal last season... i guess because he felt he had catching prospects (Murphy/Sanchez) not too far out, instead inexplicably brings in Youkilis .  Now he goes out and signs McCann for 5 years

SteelyDon
SteelyDon

Good signing, a little steep but that is the market.  The Yankees still need two starting pitches, at least two more arms in the pen, an outfielder and another infielder (3rd baseman if Arod is suspended.)

WilyCoyoteSuperGenius
WilyCoyoteSuperGenius

The Yankees will finish in 4th or 5th place in the AL East anyway. I guess McCann preferred October's off.

inthepresent
inthepresent

excellent. 

this underscores their willingness to stay below the 189. 

not. (said in a borat tone of voice)

wagster1969
wagster1969

As a Braves fan, I hate to see McCann go, however the team just didn't have the money to keep him. I wish him well in the future.

6marK6
6marK6

If Yankee fans were at Guyana with Jim Jones they would have been cutting in line to get some grape Kool Aid. They haven't got a clue how poorly Cashman has mishandled his job. Spending more for less, the Yankee Way!!

parkbrav
parkbrav

Good signing. My only concern for McCann is October. In October 2013, McCann went 0 for 13 with 1 RBI and 3 Walks

Sneeral
Sneeral

Incredibly stupid that the Yanks let Martin walk last year for an annual pay that is half of what they're now committing to McCann for 5 years. What bad management.

PaulColetti
PaulColetti

I laugh at the fact that at 30 he is aging. If any other team had signed McCann it would be a gat move. Yanks sign him and it is overpaying, aging, blah blah blah...yankees have McCann with cervelli. Stewart looks like he is out. There is j r Murphy and Sanchez. Plus don't forget romine. They have three young catchers to grow up in the system. They add mccann and now catcher is set. Just develop the three youngins.

oasis1994
oasis1994

My favorite part of this is how all the sports writers said this guy was the real deal (along with TV analysts). If you read the entire article it talks about what a risk he is.

Yankees overpaid for the guy, but that is what free agency is all about. 

joe6647
joe6647

The Yanks get an overpaid DH on the last 2 years of this deal.  Catchers production falls way off from age 33 to 34

mwr5053
mwr5053

Why is Colorado interested in Saltalamacchia? Willim Rosario was a stud as a young catcher with the Rockies in 2013, no?

AdamKlein
AdamKlein

Whoa! I didn't know that about  his drop against fastballs. The other issue with McCann of course is the LASIK and that he has problems with his eyes as well. The biggest problems are dry eye and night vision which maybe another reason he stuggles in August and September when sunset is earlier then mid summer. Atlanta though is a very humid climate with late sunset times as I wonder if also LASIK has effected his production to some degree from his earlier years where he hit for higher batting averages.

nunEEE6
nunEEE6

i didn't think it was possible for the Yankees to get more boring.  Cashman is a miracle worker

6marK6
6marK6

What a shock, the Yankees overspending on a player, again.

snowyphile
snowyphile

It's not much of a stretch, McCann morphing to Texiera.  

William27
William27

@Thomas85 I am a life long yankee fan but I don't like cashman and the steinbrenners, they don't know what they are doing

gymviking
gymviking

@Thomas85 There is was, and there is is. Was- The Yankee organization was one of the most storied in sports, winning 27 titles  Is - The 2013 Yankees narrowly edged out the Blue Jays for 4th place, their aging team spending a great deal of time on the disabled list.

Is - 2013 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox


parkbrav
parkbrav

@6marK6 good point, but I'm sure NY YAnkee fan forever will jump on and lecture all of us how come the 2013 season wasn't really such a disaster for the Yankees. For him, the Emperor has got his clothes on.

nunEEE6
nunEEE6

@PaulColetti they just signed a catcher to a 5 year deal and you're talking about their catching prospects?

joe6647
joe6647

@PaulColetti 30 + 5 year deal + the fact that McCann has caught 1000 games means the Yanks MIGHT get three productive years out of him.  If you think the last two years of his deal he wil be anything other than a DH, you are just fooling yourself

joe6647
joe6647

may be even sooner for McCann given his heavy workload in ATL

macgyv13
macgyv13

Wait until McCann sees the likes of Jose Bautista and Brett Lawrie 19 times a year.

JerryBelle
JerryBelle

@gak01 -spoken like someone who has never played the game, but is a real whiz on a keyboard....talk about meatheads ....lol

Nyyankeefanforever1
Nyyankeefanforever1

@6marK6 What a shock: Another junior GM with no grasp of the business end of baseball bloviating without a clue. McCann's a top 5 catcher who hits for more power than Molina; gets on base more than Molina; is more productive than Molina; and is two years younger than Molina -- and the AAV of his deal is only $2 million more than Molina...oh yeah, and his new home park was tailor-made for his stroke. Swing and a miss, skippy, but thanks for playing our game. ;-)


EnashWaca
EnashWaca

@Nyyankeefanforever1 @6marK6 If they had passed on McCann and signed Ruiz instead you would have had a list of advantages for Ruiz and would be saying how McCann wasn't worth the big contract. 

parkbrav
parkbrav

@Nyyankeefanforever1 Hey NY Yankee Fan Forever. You were Missing In Action the second half of the 2013 season, and MIA for the .213/.289/.298 line at catcher. So glad to see that you're back on the bandwagon

6marK6
6marK6

@Nyyankeefanforever1 @6marK6 DOn't you have an A-Rod fan club meeting to attend? McCann was so go great that the Braves were more than willing to let him leave because they like Baird and Bathancourt more. Tell, me, genius, who has the biggest payroll in baseball? When is the last time they sniffed a world series? Where did they finish last year? Yep, stay the course.

gak01
gak01

@oasis1994 @JerryBelle @gak01 Look at the ratings for the sport! No one is watching anymore. People want to watch exciting superstars (Who seem to annoy McCann), Not fat catchers that bat .250.