Archive for Brian McCann
In my opinion, the single biggest upgrade the Yankees made this winter was replacing Chris Stewart with Brian McCann behind the plate. They paid top of the market dollars for that upgrade — McCann’s five-year, $85M deal is the largest ever given to a free agent catcher by more than 60% — but the impact on the field will be enormous. Few things in the game are as valuable as a catcher who can hit while playing above-average defense.
Like every other long-term contract, McCann’s deal carries quite a bit of risk. It’s unavoidable. Catchers are riskier than other position players because the position is just so demanding. Squatting behind the plate day after day in the summer heat and humidity sucks enough — between the regular season and playoffs, McCann already has over 9,000 innings at catcher on his legs, most of them in the Atlanta summer — but then you have to add the foul tips and everything else on top of that.
Thankfully, the risk associated with McCann’s contract went down earlier this week. MLB and the MLBPA announced their new “experimental” rule regarding home plate collisions, a rule that eliminates needless contact. The runner can still run into the catcher if he has the ball and is blocking the plate, but that’s it. He can’t run out of his baseline to target the catcher and the catcher can’t block the plate without the ball. Reducing the number of collisions means reducing McCann’s injury risk.
“I don’t know if it’s going to [be hard to adjust to the new rule],” said McCann to Chad Jennings. “As long as you give the guy the plate before you have the ball, it’s kind of the same rule. … We’re taught to be in the right position so if you do get run over, you’re not going to get hurt from it. When you catch the ball, you do have to be in the right position because you are vulnerable for ACL [injuries], you’re vulnerable for concussions. You don’t want to see anybody miss time because of that.”
McCann, 30, has been remarkably durable (for a catcher) throughout his career, but he did miss about a week with a concussion following a collision with Shane Victorino back in 2008. We watched Frankie Cervelli suffer a concussion when he was run over by Nick Markakis in September 2011 (video) and Mark Teixeira send Bobby Wilson to the DL for more than a month with an April 2010 collision (video). Wilson, who didn’t even have the ball, suffered a concussion and a severe ankle sprain. The runner doesn’t even have to be running at full speed for a collision to inflict serious damage.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about the new anti-collision rule — it will take some getting used to, if nothing else — but the league wants the game to be safer, so it’s easy to understand why the ban was implemented. Given all the money the Yankees committed to McCann this winter, anything that can potentially keep him healthier is a big positive. Catching is still going to be crazy dangerous, but eliminating unnecessary collisions may help the team’s new backstop stay healthier and more productive deeper into his contract.
Exhibition games start tomorrow and the regular season is five weeks away. Between now and then, we’re going to preview the 2014 Yankees not individually, but by grouping players (and personnel) together into different categories. Today we’re going to look at the guys who will put the Bombers in Bronx Bombers.
The Yankees made history last season and not in a good way. They hit 101 (!) fewer homeruns last year than they did the year before, the largest year-to-year drop in baseball history. New York went from leading baseball in dingers (245) and ISO (.188) in 2012 to ranking 21st out of the 30 teams in both categories (144 and .133) in 2013, and their runs-per-game average dropped from 4.96 (second) to 4.01 (17th). The lack of power is a big reason why they missed the postseason for only the second time in 19 years.
Blame injuries (Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira) and blame roster construction (Ichiro Suzuki and Chris Stewart replacing Nick Swisher and Russell Martin, etc.) for the decline in power. All of that and more was a factor. The Yankees set out to fix that problem starting at the trade deadline last summer and they continued to add some power-hitting pieces over the winter. I doubt they will be able to hit 240+ long balls this coming season, but they should improve on last year’s power production overall. Here are the team’s primary power sources.
To the surprise of no one, Robinson Cano led the Yankees with 27 homers last season. Soriano managed to finish second on the team with 17 despite not returning to the Bronx until the deadline. The Yankees were that power starved. Cano left for the Mariners over the winter but the club will now have a full year of Soriano, which will help compensate a bit.
Despite turning 38 last month, Soriano has put together back-to-back 30+ homers seasons these last two years and he’s hovered in the .225-.238 ISO range over the last four seasons. He’s no longer the 40+ doubles threat he was earlier in the career, but he has managed between 27-33 two-baggers the last three years. Soriano is a steady 60+ extra-base hit bat and, most importantly, the average direction and distance of his batted balls has not changed at all since 2007. From Baseball Heat Maps:
You can click the image for a larger view. The chart on the left is the horizontal angle of the ball off the bat — so +45° is the left field line and -45° is the right field line — and the chart on the right is the distance. Each red dot is an individual batted ball (grounders excluded, so this is everything he hit in the air) and the vertical clusters are individual seasons, so 2007-13 from left to right.
At Soriano’s age, any change in his batted ball angle or distance would have been a red flag and possibly an indication his bat has started to slow beyond the point of no return. Instead, Soriano continues to hit the ball to all fields (slightly more towards right field) and just as far as he did seven years ago. Sure, he’s had to make adjustments over the years, most notably switching to a lighter bat in 2012, but the end results are the same. He’s hitting the ball the same way he has for much of the last decade.
Now, that isn’t to say this will continue in 2014. Things can go south in a hurry when you’re talking about a player closer to 40 than 35, but there have been no obvious red flags in Soriano’s game to date. Outside of 2009, when he missed a month with a knee problem, Soriano has been a consistent 25+ homer, 25+ double, .220+ ISO hitter for a decade now, and aside from sudden age-related decline or injury, there is no reason to expect anything different in 2014. He is the Yankees’ best full-time right-handed power source by frickin’ far.
New York’s catchers hit eight total homeruns last season, three of which came from Frankie Cervelli before he got hurt in mid-April. The catcher position was an offensive blackhole in 2013 and the Yankees rectified that problem by giving McCann a five-year contract worth $85M. The just-turned-30-year-old is one of only two catchers with 20+ homers in each of the last three seasons (Matt Wieters) and one of only eleven players (all positions) with 20+ homers in each of the last six seasons.
Of course, McCann hit all those dingers while with the Braves in Atlanta, playing his home games in a park that has been perfectly neutral in terms of left-handed homers over the last five seasons according to the park factors at FanGraphs. His lefty power was extra desirable to the Yankees because of Yankee Stadium’s short right field porch, which is tailor made for McCann’s pull happy swing:
Don’t trick yourself into thinking McCann is something he isn’t. This guy is a pure grip it and rip it hitter who is going to try to yank everything over the right field wall. He’s going to hit .250-ish and walk enough (9.9% walk rate since 2011) to post decent but not great OBPs, but his real offensive value comes from his power. Homers too, forget about doubles.
I think the whole “sign a left-handed hitter and he’ll automatically hit a bunch more homers in Yankee Stadium” idea is generally overstated — not everyone’s swing fits the ballpark (see: Overbay, Lyle) — but McCann is exactly the kind of hitter who can really exploit that short porch. His career-high is 24 homeruns (2006 and 2011) and I wouldn’t be surprised if he finishes this year with 30-35 homers, especially if he spends some of his catching off-days at DH.
Over the last three years, only ten outfielders have racked up at least 50 extra-base hits in each season. Soriano is one of them and another is Beltran, his new teammate. Heck, if you want to bump up the arbitrary criteria, Beltran is one of only four outfielders with at least 55 extra-base hits these last three years. Soriano is not one of the other three.
The Yankees finally snagged their white whale (well, I think he was the fans’ white whale more than the team’s) this winter by signing Beltran to a three-year deal worth $45M, nine years after declining to sign him at a discounted rate before he joined the Mets. Beltran has aged remarkably well as a hitter, dipping below a 120 wRC+ only once in the last eight years, and that was his injury-plagued 2010 campaign. He’s also managed 20+ homers and 25+ doubles in each of the last three years and six of the last eight years, with 2009-10 being the only exceptions. Injuries limited him to 145 total games those two seasons.
Unlike Soriano and McCann, Beltran is a switch-hitter. He maintained a .200+ ISO against both righties and lefties these last two years (.214 vs. LHP and .202 vs. RHP) but he is a different type of hitter from each side of the plate. Beltran is pretty much a dead pull hitter as a righty and an all-fields guy as a lefty, though he does the most damage from the left side when he pulls the ball to right field at this point of his career (spray charts). That’s perfectly fine and plays right into Yankee Stadium. The concern is the declining distance of his batted balls:
Given his age (37 in April), that little downtick last year (really the last two years) is a concern. It’s not much, but pretty much anything is a red flag with a player this age. On average, Beltran did not hit the ball as far last year as he did the year before. Could be a one-year fluke, could be a sign of age-related decline. We’re going to find out in the coming months.
I am pretty confident Beltran will be a 20+ homer, 25+ double guy for the Yankees this coming season and right now that is the most important thing. He could fall completely off a cliff in 2014 but it would be a surprise to me. (The 2015-16 seasons are another matter for another time.) Even if he is starting to slip due to age, some of Beltran’s would-be homers should still go for doubles in 2014. The guy is such a good pure hitter and it’s not like he was bad in 2013. The somewhat early signs of decline are there though. No doubt about it.
Teixeira is a total unknown heading into this season. He missed almost all of last summer with a wrist injury, an injury that required season-ending surgery after a brief and failed return to the lineup. Teixeira is currently taking batting practice and is slated to start playing in Spring Training games in early-March, but wrist injuries are known to sap power even after the player has been cleared by doctors.
Even as his overall production has declined, the 33-year-old Teixeira has always remained a source of homers, hitting at least 33 dingers from 2008-11 and then 24 in 123 games in 2012. He has never once had a sub-.220 ISO during a full season in his entire career. Teixeira has admitted to changing his hitting style to take advantage of the short porch as a left-handed hitter and there’s no reason to think he’ll do anything differently going forward.
Guys like Jose Bautista and David Ortiz had similar wrist tendon sheath problems in recent years and it took them a few months before returning to their previous form. It’s easy to say Teixeira will hit for power because he’s always hit for power, but there’s just no way of knowing what he can do following the injury. He’s included in this post because hitting the ball over the fence is his thing, but there is a chance he might not do that in 2014, at least not early in the season. It might take him a while to get back in the swing of things.
The Yankees gave Johnson a nice little one-year, $3M contract back in December and he is now their everyday third baseman in the wake of Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension. The 32-year-old isn’t much of a doubles guy but he has hit at least 16 homeruns in each of the last four seasons, and he has power to all fields:
Johnson can hit the ball of the park in any direction, which is a good thing. He’ll get some help from the short porch but he’s also shown he’s strong enough to drive those outside pitches the other way. Is he ever going to hit 26 homers with a .212 ISO like he did in 2010 again? Probably not, but the 16 homeruns he hit in 2012 and 2013 might become 18-22 in the Bronx. Considering the Yankees only had one guy mash 18+ taters last summer, getting a similar number from a player like Johnson, who is slated to bat seventh, will be a welcome addition.
* * *
On the other end of the spectrum, the Yankees do not figure to get much power from second base (Brian Roberts), shortstop (Derek Jeter), left field (Brett Gardner), or center field (Jacoby Ellsbury) this year. From that group, only Jeter (15 HR in 2012) and Ellsbury (outlier 32 HR in 2011) have managed to hit double-digit homers at some point in the last three years and neither is a lock to do it in 2014. Sure, Ellsbury might pop a few extra dingers with the move into Yankee Stadium, but for the most part his ground ball/opposite field approach won’t boost his homer total all that much. Those four guys will pick up some extra-base hits with their speed, but over-the-fence power isn’t happening. Soriano, McCann, Beltran, Teixeira, and Johnson will be leaned on for homers and extra-base hits.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Tampa today, and a few hours later Joe Girardi showed up to camp. His flight from New York was delayed because of all the snow. My goodness there is so much snow. Anyway, here is a not at all complete recap of Girardi’s annual start-of-Spring Training press conference, culled together from the Twitter accounts of reporters in attendance.
On Derek Jeter
- Girardi had “no inkling” Jeter was planning to retire after the season until the announcement was made. “We are going to miss him,” he said. “You want a guy like that to play forever.”
- Jeter’s playing time both in the field and at DH against left-handers is going to be based on how he feels on a daily basis. They won’t put a firm plan in place at this point.
- As for batting Jeter second, Girardi said “we’ll have to see,” but indicated he would like to split up the left-handed hitters. I wonder if that means Brett Gardner will bat leadoff and Jacoby Ellsbury will bat third. Or maybe Ellsbury at leadoff with Brian McCann batting third. We’ll see.
On the new players
- “It is the biggest transition I’ve been through … I think its important I get to know these guys,” said the skipper.
- Girardi believes Masahiro Tanaka loves the spotlight and will handle the move to MLB well.
- Kelly Johnson is the backup first baseman for the time being. They have not discussed playing McCann at first.
On the fifth starter competition
- Girardi plans to tell David Phelps, Adam Warren, Michael Pineda, and everyone else to make sure they take it easy early in camp and gradually build themselves up. They don’t want anyone getting hurt by doing too much too soon.
- “Anything is possible,” said Girardi when asked if they would be willing to use Pineda out of the bullpen. “When we traded for him, we expected him to be in our rotation,” he added. “We envision him as a starter.”
Via Andy McCullough: The Yankees hired former Yankee Eric Hinske as a pro scout after the season, and he helped the team woo Brian McCann to New York. “He was here, he was involved” said Brian Cashman of Hinske. “He helped me with Brian McCann … because he played with Brian. So I appreciate Eric Hinske giving Brian McCann a lot of good advice about his experience here with the Yankees. He was a great resource for about 30 days.”
Hinske, 36, was with the team for “about the month” before leaving to join the Cubs as their first base coach. You probably remember him as a member of the 2009 World Series team after being acquired from the Pirates at midseason. Hinske actually played for the Diamondbacks this past season, but he was terrible (49 wRC+) and decided to retire after being released in July. Long before he helped the Yankees land McCann, Hinske advised Evan Longoria to sign long-term with the Rays. Sounds like he might have a future in a front office.
Finally, we have the details of Brian McCann‘s vesting option, courtesy of Joel Sherman. The option for 2019 is worth $15M and vests with 1,000 plate appearances from 2017-2018, 90 games as a catcher in 2018, and if he’s not on the DL at the end of 2018. All of those conditions must be met. If the option vests, McCann can void it and become a free agent. For all intents and purposes, he must still be a starting catcher in 2018 for the option to kick in. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
The Yankees have officially signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract with a vesting option for a sixth year, the team announced. He has passed his physical and all that. “The singular and unwavering desire of this organization is to construct a team each and every season designed to play meaningful baseball deep into October … Our work this offseason has just begun, but we feel this is an important step towards what will be an exciting and rewarding 2014 season for our fans,” said Hal Steinbrenner in a statement.
McCann will be introduced at a press conference on Thursday, which will be broadcast on YES. I’m pretty sure it will be their first press conference to introduce a new player since
Mark Teixeira Rafael Soriano. Been a while. The 2014 Draft Order page has been updated.
At some point soon — probably next week — the Yankees are going to finalize their agreement with catcher Brian McCann. They will add one of the best backstops in baseball at a substantial cost, reportedly $85M across five years with a vesting option for a sixth year. They’re clearly expecting big things out of him and why wouldn’t they? He’s been one of the most productive hitters of the last decade or so, especially relative to his position. Catchers who hit like this are rare.
Because the Yankees invested so much in McCann, they’re likely to look for ways to control his workload behind the plate in an effort to get as much out of him as possible. They want him to catch for all five years of the contract because that’s where he’s the most valuable — McCann is just another guy at first base or DH — even though it may not be realistic. He turns 30 in February and a five-year contract covers the years when most catchers turn into pumpkins, especially guys who have been starters for a long time. All that squatting behind the plate and all those foul tips take their toll.
McCann was a workhorse throughout his career with the Braves. He made his big league debut at age 21 and was an everyday catcher by age 22. From 2006-2012, his age 22-28 seasons, he started at least 113 games behind the plate each year and led all of baseball with 944 games caught total. He was limited to 91 starts at catcher this past season only because he missed April following offseason right shoulder surgery. That’s a lot of wear and tear and the team knows it. They don’t want their new addition to be a full-time DH by year three of a five-year deal.
Thankfully, that DH spot gives the Yankees a little bit of flexibility. It allows them to keep McCann’s bat in the lineup while getting him out from behind the plate for a day. Obviously other players like Derek Jeter will need to rotate through that DH spot — I really don’t like the rotating DH in general, but it’s a necessity for this roster at this point — but there should be enough starts available for McCann throughout the course of the season. Remember, he’s going to be the catcher first and foremost. DH is just an alternative for a day, nothing more.
The Yankees faced between 52-61 left-handed starters in each of the last five seasons, so a straight platoon with presumed backup Frankie Cervelli would limit McCann to roughly 100-110 starts behind the plate next year. That’s a bit below the 123 starts at catcher he averaged from 2006-2012 and it seems like a decent target to me. He could DH another 30-40 games — he will need some full days off of course, catching is hard — and that would get him in the lineup 140-ish times a year.
Sounds like a good plan, right? Well, platoons rarely work out as intended, especially for catchers. Blame injuries and hot/cold streaks and sorts of other unpredictable stuff. At some point next year the Yankees will face nine right-handed starters in nine days, something like that, and that will throw a wrench into everything. The Yankees also might not want to admit their shiny new $85M toy is a platoon player just yet. That stuff does happen. They could run McCann out there everyday against both righties and lefties at first just to see what happens. He did hit lefties from 2010-2012 (104 wRC+), maybe 2013 (72 wRC+) was a blip.
There’s an awful lot of stuff to consider when laying out a plan to keep McCann productive and behind the plate over the next half-decade, including his preferences. McCann might hate being the DH and that would be a factor in how they use him. Ultimately, the team owes him big bucks over the next five years and they should figure out the best way to keep him at catcher for as many of those year as possible. I think that 100-110 starts behind the plate number sounds pretty good because he would still get the majority of the games at catcher while having his workload reduced a bit from recent years. Coming up with a plan that works will be much easier said than done and it will be important. McCann’s going to be here for a while. The Yankees have every reason to look after his long-term well-being.
Last night, the Yankees made the single biggest upgrade they could have made this winter by agreeing to sign Brian McCann. They got close to nothing from their catchers last season and now they have one of the four or five best in baseball. McCann still has to pass a physical before the deal becomes official, and while that isn’t expected to be much of an issue, he did have surgery to repair his left shoulder last October. The team needs to take a good look at that. Here’s some other stuff I have to add.
1. Five years and $85M is pretty much exactly what I expected McCann to receive and probably a bit of a bargain in the current market. I mentioned in the Scouting The Market post that the bidding could get so out of hand — lots of big market teams need catching help (Yankees, Red Sox, Rangers, etc.) — that it could take a sixth guaranteed year to land him, but the Yankees were able to avoid that. There is a vesting option, however. This is the third largest catcher contract in history behind Joe Mauer (eight years, $184M) and Mike Piazza (seven years, $91M), but it’s the largest free agent catcher contract ever. The previous free agent record was Jorge Posada‘s four-year, $52.4M deal prior to 2008. Good catchers are never available. This is also the largest contract the Yankees have given out since signing Mark Teixeira. As for the draft pick … who cares? I have no problem giving up a first rounder for a player of McCann’s caliber. The full no-trade clause bothers me more than the pick, but whatever.
2. The contract will count as $17M towards the luxury tax threshold these next five years, so, based on my most recent (unofficial) payroll breakdown, the Yankees still have about $27M left to spend this winter. They have to re-sign Robinson Cano with that money, so it’s not as much as it seems. Of course, that $27M would become roughly $61M if Alex Rodriguez is suspended for all of next season, but that’s hardly a guarantee at this point. If he’s suspended only 50 games, it still jump to $35.5M or so. The McCann contract means one of three things: a) the plan to get under the luxury tax threshold went out the winter, b) they’re going to let Cano walk, or c) they’re confident A-Rod will get suspended. After adding McCann, I don’t see how they can realistically re-sign Cano and stay under the threshold without Alex getting suspended. I mean, it could be done, but they would have very little to spend the rest of the winter. Some payroll shenanigans are afoot.
3. Although I think the Yankees should hang onto their catching prospects unless they get an overwhelming offer, I certainly understand the idea of trading one to help the team elsewhere. Gary Sanchez is the best prospect of the bunch but I actually like J.R. Murphy more as a no-doubt long-term catcher and think he is the best bet to take over behind the plate whenever McCann makes the transition to first base/DH. Assuming Frankie Cervelli serves as the backup next season, Murphy could spend the year with Triple-A Scranton (only played 59 games there last year) before starting a Joe Girardi/Jorge Posada-esque apprenticeship in 2015. That would make Austin Romine trade bait even though he probably has the lowest trade value of the trio. Still, young catching is hard to find and the Yankees should have no trouble finding a taker for Romine if they indeed decide to move one of their young backstops. I’d hang onto them just a bit longer though. None are sure things and catching depth can disappear in a hurry.
4. I’ve been messing around with batted ball distances these last few weeks — wrote this recently — because I think it’s pretty interesting, but I’m not quite sure what to do with it yet. I’m not sure how predictive it is or anything like that. It is fun to look at though. Courtesy of Baseball Heat Maps, here is every ball McCann has hit in the air since 2007, when the data started being recorded:
The vertical clusters are individual seasons (2007-2013 from left to right) and each red dot is a batted ball hit in the air, meaning a fly ball, a line drive, or a pop-up. Doesn’t matter if it went over the fence, fell in for a hit, or was caught for an out. If it was hit in the air, it’s in the graph. As you can see, McCann’s average batted ball distance (the black line) has been relatively unchanged over the years. I did add the blue line at 350 feet to show he didn’t hit the ball that far as frequently as he once did these last two years. That coincides with his right (front when hitting) shoulder problems, and there is some evidence suggesting an injury to the front shoulder can sap a hitter’s power for a few years or, in some cases, permanently. This doesn’t mean McCann is doomed or anything, he was a very productive hitter this past season, I just thought it was interesting.
5. So what’s next? Aside from getting Cano locked up, of course. The Yankees still need help at third base and in right field, but I think pitching is the biggest item on the agenda right now. Brian Cashman said they’re looking to add two starters this winter and that’s easier said than done. It doesn’t sound like Masahiro Tanaka will be posted anytime soon, but they could target a cheap-ish second or third tier guy to at least get the ball rolling. I’ve come around quite a bit on Scott Feldman (3.86 ERA and 4.03 FIP in 181.2 innings in 2013) and think he’d be a real solid pickup at the right price. The FanGraphs crowdsourcing and Jim Bowden (who’s been ridiculously accurate so far) both expect him to sign a deal worth right around $9M annually this winter, which is more than fair (and probably a bargain) for a number three-ish starter in this market. Landing someone like that solidifies the rotation while leaving enough money (assuming A-Rod is suspended) for Tanaka or Hiroki Kuroda or someone like that. Either way, pitching stands out as the biggest need now.
Do you really need the numbers to grasp how poorly the Yankees performed at catcher in 2013? In case you did: .587 OPS, which ranked 12 out of 14 in the AL, nearly .080 points lower than the next-highest team. They did have a few bright spots, including Francisco Cervelli‘s productive month and Chris Stewart staying hot for a bit, but by the end of the season the Yankees’ catchers were cooked. Stewart, a backup at best, was run down from starting, Austin Romine had gotten hurt (again), and J.R. Murphy was what you’d expect from a late-season call-up.
Tonight, the Yankees addressed their most glaring need, signing Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal that includes a sixth-year vesting option that could make the deal worth $100 million. McCann, 30 in February, will add some much-needed pop at catcher, perhaps recreating the days of Jorge Posada behind the plate.
The upgrade from Stewart, Romine, Cervelli, and Murphy to McCann speaks for itself. Last season, as McCann recovered from shoulder surgery, he produced a .796 OPS, 115 OPS+, in 402 PA. That lines up pretty well with his career numbers (117 OPS+). That OPS alone would have put the Yankees at third in the AL in OPS, behind only Minnesota (Mauer) and Cleveland (Santana). But that doesn’t tell the entire story.
McCann, a lefty, pairs perfectly with Francisco Cervelli, a righty who has excelled against lefties. True, his entire career against lefties amounts to a hair under 200 PA, but he’s more than done his job in those opportunities (.302/.402/.389). If he can squat behind the plate when the Yankees face left-handed pitching, it’s the perfect catching combination. McCann not only saves the wear and tear of catching for a third of the season, but he’ll be available to DH — and he’s produced a .744 career OPS against lefties.
Left-handed power hitters are always welcome at Yankee Stadium, and McCann’s swing appears tailor-made for the short porch. Even in his poor 2012 he produced a .344 wOBA when pulling the ball, and in two of the last three years he has just murdered the ball when pulling. Combine that with a difference in home parks — there’s a huge right-center gap at Turner Field — and it seems like an ideal fit from an offensive standpoint.
The money involved has more than a few fans up in arms. At five years and $85 million, it’s certainly a large outlay by the Yankees. It’s tough to analyze this without knowing their intentions re: Plan 189. If they do plan to come in under the luxury tax threshold in 2014, it’ll be even more interesting to see how they fill the roster. For the time being, let’s just consider this the Yankees getting aggressive in order to nail their No. 1 priority. Who knows what else is at play? All we know now is that the Yankees have more money than any other team, and that they’ve spent it on a player that will make them considerably better.
Much of the outcry regarding McCann involves his age and his position. He turns 30 in February, which is not a good sign for a catcher, at least anecdotally. Again, if the Yankees can continue trotting out a backup who can hit left-handed pitching, they can limit McCann’s exposure behind the plate, making up the PA at DH or even 1B, a position he said he’d be open to learn. He did suffer a shoulder injury in 2012 that sapped his production and kept him out during the first month of 2013, but it does appear he’s recovered from that. Assuming he’s healthy now, proper management could go a long way to keeping him on the field, and behind the plate, for the next five years.
It’s difficult to understate how poorly the Yankees fared at catcher in 2013. Signing McCann provides the greatest upgrade they could have acquired this off-season. There are concerns, as there are with any free agent signing. But given the upside of the deal, and the Yankees’ apparent ability to spend, this deal stands a decent chance of working out for them.
Discussion to be reconvened in January, when we see what else the Yankees have done to augment and upgrade the roster.
Following a season in which their catchers ranked 26th in baseball with a 61 wRC+ and 23rd with 0.9 fWAR, help behind the plate figures to be on the Yankees’ agenda this winter. They have some strong backstop prospects in J.C. Murphy and Gary Sanchez, but prospects break hearts and if the team has a chance to land a quality catcher this offseason, they should consider it. Strongly consider it. Very strongly.
Long-time Braves catcher Brian McCann is a free agent and his camp has already had preliminary talks with New York according to Andy McCullough. That makes sense, especially since elite catchers very rarely hit the open market. In fact, since Ivan Rodriguez signed his four-year, $40M deal with the Tigers prior to the 2004 season, the largest contract given to a free agent catcher is the three-year, $18M pact the Marlins gave John Buck three years ago. Good catchers never ever ever become free agents. Teams lock them up because they know how rare and precious they are.
On the surface, McCann makes perfect since for the Yankees. If he’s not an elite catcher, he’s damn near elite. One of the five best in baseball. He’s also a left-handed power hitter who should benefit quite a bit from the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium. There is more to life than that though, especially when talking about a guy who had surgery to repair a tear in his labrum and general instability in his right shoulder last October. Let’s break down his game to see just how much of a fit he is for New York:
- McCann showed no ill effects from the surgery offensively by hitting .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) with 20 homers in 402 plate appearances this year. He struggled mightily while playing through the injury last summer (87 wRC+) but rebounded to his pre-surgery levels (121 wRC+ from 2009-2011). His strikeout rate (16.4% in both 2013 and 2009-2011) is lower than the league average as well.
- He fits the classic Yankees’ mold of power and patience. McCann drew a walk in 9.7% of his plate appearances this year (10.9% from 2009-2011) and managed a .205 ISO (.195 from 2009-2011) despite playing in pitcher-friendly Turner Field. As his spray charts show (2013, 2009-2011), he does most of his damage when he pulls the ball to right. That fit perfectly with Yankee Stadium.
- Aside from the shoulder problem last year, McCann has been very durable by catcher standards since breaking into the league 2005. The shoulder surgery is a huge red flag obviously, but it’s not like he has a tendency to visit the DL every year or anything.
- Outside of what appears to be an outlier in 2011, McCann has consistently rated as an above-average defensive catcher (2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 rankings). He has also grades out as an excellent pitch-framer, both this past season and historically (subs. req’d).
- McCann has played in the postseason a bunch of times and has plenty of experience in pennant races and all that with the Braves. I don’t know how valuable that actually is, but it can’t hurt.
- McCann’s overall offensive performance was very good this year, but he really struggled against southpaws for the first time since breaking into the league: .231/.279/.337 (72 wRC+) against lefties but .266/.357/.512 (141 wRC+) against righties. From 2009-2011, it was .250/.323/.411 (100 wRC+) against lefties and .284/.374/.494 (131 wRC+) against righties.
- Despite the strong defensive scores, McCann has always been below-average at throwing out attempted base-stealers. He cut down just 15 of 62 (24.2%) runners this year and 89 of 353 (25.2%) from 2009-2011. Consistently five or so percentage points below the league average.
- McCann has no value on the bases whatsoever, which is par for the catcher course. He attempted one stolen base this year and only 21 over the last five years. He’s also well-below-average at taking the extra base (first-to-third on a single, etc.), succeeding only 17% of the time since 2009. The league average is close to 40%. He’s a base-clogger in the historical sense of the term.
- The Braves unsurprisingly made McCann a qualifying offer before Monday’s deadline, so the Yankees or any other club will have to forfeit a high draft pick to sign him. For New York, that means the 18th overall selection.
- McCann came off as kind of a dick late in the season during the homer incidents with Jose Fernandez (video) and Carlos Gomez (video). That is weak.
I think Yadier Molina’s five-year, $75M contract is the benchmark for McCann’s next deal. I think that’s the starting point, really. It’s been two seasons since Molina signed his contract and free agent prices have only gone up, plus McCann will be a true free agent and able to get several teams involved in a bidding war. Molina is clearly the superior player, but he signed an extension and could only negotiate with one team. I mentioned before how rare it is for a top catcher life McCann to hit the market, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the team that lands him is the one willing to offer a sixth year.
McCann turns 30 in February and already has more than 8,800 career innings at catcher to his credit, so expecting him to remain behind the plate for the entirety of a five (or six) year contract seems unreasonable. I think the realistic case is getting two full years at catcher, one year split between catcher and first base, then two years split between first base and DH. That timetable lines up well with the expiration of Mark Teixeira‘s contract, so McCann could slide right over to first once he starts to turn into a pumpkin behind the dish. Maybe if you’re lucky, you’ll get three full years at catcher during a five-year deal.
There is almost no chance the Yankees could fit McCann into their $189M or less payroll next season without Alex Rodriguez being suspended for all of 2014. That’s a problem because the ruling for A-Rod‘s appeal may not be handed down until mid-December, after the Winter Meetings when most top free agents pick a new team. Maybe McCann will be one of the exceptions who drag their decision into January, but the point remains: the Yankees can’t seriously pursue him until they know A-Rod’s salary is off the books for certain. That’s unfortunate, McCann is such a perfect fit.