Archive for Brian McCann

Beard's gotta go. (Presswire)

Beard’s gotta go. (Presswire)

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:

McCann Batted Balls

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.

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(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

(Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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.

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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:

The Pros

  • 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.

The Cons

  • 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.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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Depending on how you work the math and whether Alex Rodriguez gets suspended for part or all of next season, the Yankees will have something like $65-90M to work with under that $189M luxury tax threshold this offseason. Derek Jeter‘s player option and various arbitration raises will change things as well. Either way, the Bombers are going to have some money to spend this offseason, and Andrew Marchand reports a massive shopping spree may in the works. To the block text:

[The] front office is devising a plan that could have the team going on a $300 million shopping spree, sources have told

The Yankees will begin their organization meetings Monday where they will settle on a strategy that they believe can cut payroll to $189 million while spending big on free agents.

The Yankees’ initial main targets are expected to include their own Robinson Cano, Japanese starter Masahiro Tanaka, Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann and St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Carlos Beltran, according to sources.

The Yankees think they can add at least two top free agents this winter and remain under team owner Hal Steinbrenner’s goal of reducing total salaries to less than $189 million. Steinbrenner has said he would like to reduce the team’s luxury tax and revenue sharing numbers so that he can reinvest the money instead of paying out to smaller markets.

Just spitballing some average annual values/luxury tax hits, I think those four will wind up around $23M (Cano), $15M (McCann), $14M (Beltran), and $12M (Tanaka) next year. I think those are in the ballpark. The market is kinda crazy though — teams have a lot of money to spend and nowhere to spend it, so free agents are making huge bucks — meaning all four guys could wind up with more. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that’s what they get.

In that case, those four will combine for $64M next year, taking a huge bite out of that $65-90M pool of leftover cash. There is no doubt in my mind adding Tanaka, Beltran, and McCann to Cano and everyone else under contract/team control improves the team, but the Yankees would still have a lot of holes to fill. They’d need another starting pitcher (unless you’re particularly high on Vidal Nuno, Michael Pineda, and/or Adam Warren), a left-side-of-the-infielder, a DH, at least one and preferably two (ideally three) relievers, and a bench. On top of all of that, the team would need to set some cash aside for midseason additions, both call-ups and help at the trade deadline. They can’t have a $188.9M payroll on Opening Day. It won’t work.

If the Yankees do go on a huge spending spree this winter, I have very little doubt it would be about improving attendance and ratings as much as it would improving the team’s chances of contention. Given their 2013 Pythag. record (79-83) and the players they’re presumably losing this winter (Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera, specifically), the Yankees need to add about 20 wins worth of talent to the roster this offseason even after re-signing Cano. Beltran, McCann, and Tanaka won’t add that themselves — I’d be happy if they got 12 wins out of the trio next year — so the team either needs to blow past the $189M threshold to contend or hope guys like Jeter, CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Mark Teixeira, David Phelps, and Alfonso Soriano improve their performance in 2014.

Handing out $300M worth of contracts this winter would absolutely qualify as a huge splash and almost certainly improve the team, but it’s probably not enough to get the Yankees back in the postseason if the money goes to those four players and those four players alone. The Bombers are not one, two, or even four players away right now. They need a lot of help.

Categories : Hot Stove League
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Five questions and five answers this week. Use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send up anything at any time, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(Leon Halip/Getty)

(Leon Halip/Getty)

John asks: Hypothetically speaking (how else would we speak when speculating about the offseason?), if Robinson Cano were to get say $29M per year for nine years from the Dodgers, could the Yankees sign Brian McCann, Stephen Drew and Omar Infante for $29M combined? And, if so, might that be a better strategy for 2014 and beyond?

I don’t see how they could get those three for only $29M total. McCann is looking at Yadier Molina money on the open market ($15M annually) while neither Drew ($9.5M) nor Infante ($4M) have a reason to take a pay cut following their strong seasons. I think the best case scenario is something like $35M total, broken down into $15M (McCann) plus $12M (Drew) plus $8M (Infante). I’m probably underselling Drew and Infante given the dearth of quality middle infielders. It might be closer to $40M total than $35M when it’s all said and done.

If the Yankees can’t re-sign Cano — I would be stunned if they didn’t at this point — then spreading the wealth around is pretty much the only thing they can do. There’s no other superstar available this winter who is worth a nine-figure commitment. (Maybe Shin-Soo Choo. Maybe.) McCann plus Drew plus Infante would be a real good start, bhe Yankees need more pitching and outfield help though. This team isn’t one or two players away from getting back into contention. This roster has an awful lot holes.

Chris asks: Would you be in favor of reducing the time between signing and free agency? Teams today are forced to decide between players hitting their free agency years around age 28-30. Small market teams won’t pay for players past 30 and subsequently lose their players while big market teams continuously pay and pay. It hurts everyone. Isn’t the answer to make players free agents earlier? Cano would be worth millions and millions more if he was two or three years younger.

Oh yeah, absolutely. I am decidedly pro player when it comes to this stuff. Let them become free agents as soon as possible. Teams would never agree to it and, frankly, small market clubs would have no chance to contend if they didn’t get to control their young players for what is usually the most productive years of their career. If they knocked it down to five or even four years of team control before free agency, clubs like the Rays and Athletics would have no chance to contend. It would be a franchise killer. Baseball’s salary system is screwed up in that players earn the most when they’re on the decline, but it is what it is. The six years of team control are a necessarily evil.

Karl asks: How much amateur money is at stake over the possible variation in the final standings? Any chance a post-qualifying offer Hiroki Kuroda signs with the Dodgers to chase a ring and gets the Yankees a comp pick?

I’ll answer the second part first: yes I could definitely see Kuroda signing elsewhere in hope of winning a ring. The Dodgers are an obvious destination but the Tigers, Rangers, Nationals, and Cardinals could also be fits. Despite his ugly finish to the season, I’d have no trouble making Kuroda a $14M qualifying offer. It’s a no-brainer in my book.

As for the standings, the Yankees could finish with anything from the 12th through 16th best record in baseball. The Blue Jays have a compensation pick early in the first round, so that would give them the 16th through 21st overall pick. Right now they have the 17th overall pick and the only way they can move up to 16th is if they get swept by the Astros while the Diamondbacks sweep the Nationals this weekend. That’s the only possible way to move up at this point.

Based on last season’s slot values, that’s the difference between the 16th ($2.3M) and 21st ($1.97M) picks is kinda small. Nice chunk of change but not a game-changing amount. The 17th overall pick was slotted for $2.16M, but the values are expected to increase next summer. Based on historical data and all that, the difference in expected future value of the 16th pick and the 21st (or 25th or 30th, for that matter) pick is negligible. That’s all theoretical though, anything can happen in one given year. Obviously you’d like the higher pick.

(Jason Miller/Getty)

(Jason Miller/Getty)

Christopher asks: Would you be interested in the newly back on track Ubaldo Jimenez at around $13M? I think there’s great value there and he could be the steal that helps the Yankees get back on track.

Once upon a time I was in favor of trading Jesus Montero for Jimenez, and for a while there it looked like the Yankees dodged a serious bullet. Obviously that seems silly now because Michael Pineda still hasn’t thrown a single pitch for the team in the 20 months (!) since the trade. Seriously, he’s missed two years (and counting) with that shoulder injury. What a disaster.

Anyway, this is purely hypothetical because there is an $8M club option in Ubaldo’s contract for next season and the Indians will surely pick that up. The 29-year-old has a 3.38 ERA and 3.57 FIP in 176 innings this season but he’s been even better in the second half: 1.86 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 77.1 innings. Jimenez has been a big reason why the Tribe jumped over the Rangers in the wildcard race.

Update!: Turns out Jimenez’s club option became a mutual option after the trade. He’ll surely decline his half and become a free agent.

Now, as good as the second half has been, we have to remember Ubaldo was really bad just last season. Heck, he had a 4.56 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 98.2 innings of the first half this year. Last year it was a 5.40 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 176.2 innings. Jimenez would be worth a much deeper look if he was indeed going to be free agent — did he actually change anything? — but I’d be very skeptical about giving him $13M a year based on a good half-season. High reward but super duper high risk.

Donny asks: Since we might not actually get to see this come to fruition, I figured I would ask: What do you think the playoff roster might/should look like?

I’ve been saving this question for like, three weeks now. I didn’t want to answer it while the team still had a shot at the postseason because I figured there might be serious playoff roster talk at some point. Now that they’ve been eliminated, let’s have at it. Based on who is actually healthy and available right now, here’s the 25-man roster I would take into the wildcard play-in game/ALDS:

Catchers Infielders Outfielders Rotation Bullpen
Chris Stewart Robinson Cano Curtis Granderson CC Sabathia Mariano Rivera
J.R. Murphy Lyle Overbay Ichiro Suzuki Hiroki Kuroda David Robertson
Eduardo Nunez Alfonso Soriano Andy Pettitte Boone Logan
Mark Reynolds Zoilo Almonte Ivan Nova Shawn Kelley
Designated Hitter David Adams Vernon Wells Phil Hughes David Phelps
Alex Rodriguez Adam Warren
Travis Hafner
David Huff

The opponent would dictate the bullpen to a certain degree. If the Yankees drew an opponent with a right-handed heavy lineup, I would probably take Phil Hughes Preston Claiborne over Huff. In this general case I’d take the second lefty.

The Yankees have an alarming shortage of useful position players. Brendan Ryan is not eligible for the postseason roster because he wasn’t in the organization on August 31st, so Nunez is the starting shortstop by default. That leaves Adams or Reynolds as the everyday third baseman if A-Rod‘s various leg injuries don’t heal up in time. Hafner is pretty useless, but I’d rather have the extra bench bat than the 12th pitcher. I’d trim the staff down to ten pitchers if there was another position player worth taking. That … is not an inspiring roster. Geez.

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Five questions for you this week and they’re all good ones. Might be biased, but I this is a quality mailbag. Send us any questions or comments or whatever through the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Many people asked: What about signing Brian McCann this offseason?

Not sure what sparked it, but we got a ton of McCann questions this week. I guess people are just sick of watching the team’s current catchers on a daily basis.

Anyway, the 29-year-old McCann is scheduled to become a free agent this winter for first time in his career. A right shoulder injury really hampered him last season (87 wRC+), but he’s rebounded very well from offseason surgery to produce a .258/.333/.472 (125 wRC+) line that is right in line with his career norms (117 wRC+). Surgery on the front shoulder is a scary thing for a hitter, but McCann has come back very well and hasn’t seen a slip in his performance. It’s encouraging if nothing else.

Elite catchers — if McCann isn’t considered elite, then he’s damn close — almost never hit the open market, so McCann will be one of the hottest commodities out there this winter. Yadier Molina signed a five-year, $75M extension last year and I think that’s the baseline for McCann. Yes, we’re comparing an extension to a free agent, but Molina is also the better player. I think 5/75 is in the ballpark at least. Seems reasonable enough to me.

Now, the problem with signing a soon-to-be 30-year-old catcher to a five-year contract is that you can’t expect him to catch full-time all five years. It could happen, but McCann would be the exception and not the rule. I think you have to go into the deal thinking he can catch full-time for the first two years, split the third year at catcher and first base, then split the fourth and fifth years at first base and DH. Maybe you get lucky and you get three years as a full-time catcher instead of two.

McCann makes a ton of sense for the Yankees for many reasons. First and foremost, he’s a massive upgrade over their current catchers. He’s better than all of them put together. Secondly, he’s a left-handed hitter who should see his production tick up with the move into Yankee Stadium. Third, he has plenty of experience with division and playoff races and all that stuff. And fourth, the timeframe works well. A young catcher like Austin Romine or J.R. Murphy could be broken in slowly these next few years a la late-1990s Jorge Posada, and if things break right down the line, Gary Sanchez will be able to step in right when McCann is turning into a pumpkin. He’s a great, great fit for New York.

Slade. (Presswire)

Slade. (Presswire)

Nick asks: Who is Rule 5 Draft eligible this offseason?

For all intents and purposes — there are some exceptions, players drafted particularly young or old — it’s high school players from the 2009 draft and college players from the 2010 draft this year. International players who signed at 18 or younger prior to 2008 or signed at 19 or older prior to 2009 are eligible as well. It’s always tough to pin down the international guys because we usually don’t know the exact date they signed.

The Yankees already took care of one piece of Rule 5 Draft business by adding Murphy to the 40-man roster this month. He would have been eligible this year and obviously would have been protected. As best I can tell, the following players are also Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter: CF Slade Heathcott, RHP Shane Greene, RHP Bryan Mitchell, RHP Tommy Kahnle, RHP Danny Burawa, RHP Chase Whitley, and RHP Zach Nuding. That appears to be it among the legitimate prospects. Sanchez has at least one and possibly two more years to go before becoming eligible..

Heathcott is obviously going to be protected since he is one of the team’s top prospects. Greene, Kahnle, Burawa, and Whitley are all damn near MLB ready and would be prime Rule 5 Draft bait. All four would get picked if left unprotected. The Yankees floated Kahnle’s name in trade talks before the deadline (for both Alfonso Soriano and Michael Young), which leads me to believe they are leaning against not protecting him. They were trying to get something before losing him for nothing. Greene had the best year of those four and is the only one with a realistic chance of starting.

Mitchell has a great arm but it’s hard to believe he could stick on a 25-man roster all of next season. He’s someone who would get a look in Spring Training and be offered back, more than likely. Nuding too. That said, Jose Ramirez was in the same boat last year and he wound up being protected. The Yankees have been rather aggressive when it comes to protecting Rule 5 Draft guys in recent years — I feel like almost losing Ivan Nova to the Padres in 2008 scared them into protecting everyone — so I wouldn’t be surprised if they added Heathcott, Greene, Burawa, Whitley, and Mitchell to the 40-man this winter. Greene, Burawa, and Whitley would be up-and-down bullpen options as soon as next summer, if nothing else.

Kevin asks: As bad as the farm system was this year, doesn’t it seem just as likely next year could be a bounceback season? Say two of Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, and Heathcott bounce back, Sanchez stays steady, and Greg Bird and Rafael DePaula continue to progress, can’t you see next year we’re talking about a Top 10 system? This stuff seems to considerably vary year-to-year.

Definitely. This was a bad year for the farm system but there is a lot of potential room for improvement. Literally every team has those “if this guy bounces back, if that guy stays healthy, etc.” prospects, but the Yankees have more than most. They’re adding what amounts to five first round talents into the system as well: 3B Eric Jagielo, OF Aaron Judge, LHP Ian Clarkin, RHP Ty Hensley, and LHP Manny Banuelos. The first three were this summer’s first rounders and will be playing in their first full pro season while Hensley (2012 first rounder) and Banuelos (2012 top prospect) will be returning from injury. Full years from SS Abi Avelino and RHP Luis Severino will help as well. A lot would have to break right — it all won’t, some of these guys will inevitably disappoint — but the farm system has a chance to take a major, major step forward in 2014.

Huff. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Huff. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Paul asks: When does Joe Girardi have to announce a starter for a game? Is he able to use his Phil Hughes/David Huff tandem to somehow get the opposing manager to start his lefty-heavy lineup while starting Huff instead of Hughes?

The rulebook says that the starting pitcher becomes official when the lineup cards are exchanged at home plate before the start of the game. At that point the listed starter must face at least one batter before he can be replaced like every other pitcher. So, if they wanted the other team to start their lefty-mashing lineup against Hughes and replace him with Huff, they would have to wait at least one batter.

That said, this isn’t all that practical because Huff will need some time to warm up and the other club would see him getting ready in the bullpen beforehand. There’s also a gamesmanship aspect to this. I don’t think something like this would go over well around the game. If Hughes were to get hurt? Sure. But otherwise … eh.

Justin asks: Two part Brendan Ryan question. Recently, the YES announcers have quoted Kevin Long saying he could “fix” Ryan’s swing. A) Do you think that he can bring him to respectability of maybe a .260 hitter? B) Is he a better 2014 option over Jhonny Peralta or Stephen Drew?

Long is just a hitting coach, not a miracle worker. Ryan has never been an adequate hitter — career .252/.303/.341 hitter … in Triple-A — and it’s hard to think Long could do anything that would suddenly transform him from a .238/.300/.321 career big league hitter into say, a .260/.320/.350 guy for even one year. It could happen, baseball is weird like that, but I don’t think there’s enough starting material here for that to happen.

As for 2014, I think Ryan would be my last resort at shortstop. Well, second to last ahead of Eduardo Nunez. (Sorry Eddie, I’m over you.) I prefer Drew — a slick defender and a Yankee Stadium-friendly lefty hitter — over Peralta by quite a bit among free agent options, but both guys would be real nice fits next year. Drew could play short while Peralta takes over at third for the presumably suspended Alex Rodriguez. I do think — and this is completely baseless, by the way, just a guess — the Yankees want to avoid Biogenesis/PED guys going forward though, so Peralta might be a non-option. Ryan’s been a nice little late-season pickup but I absolutely do not want that guy penciled in as the number one shortstop come Opening Day.

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(Mike Stobe/Getty)

(Mike Stobe/Getty)

1. Last night, when the Royals took a 2-1 lead in the top of the seventh off a Billy Butler no-doubter, I sarcastically tweeted that the game was over.  Well, as it turns out, my cynical sentiments weren’t far from the truth.  The Yankees are averaging a measly 3.89 runs per game and have now managed to score only one (!) run in each of the last three matches.  This has resulted in a negative-six run differential, and according to their Pythagorean record, the team should officially be two games under .500 at this point.  Collectively, the team has garnered a 83 wRC+ which is third worst in the majors.  It’s painful to watch.  It’s also really unfair to the pitching.  You could march a rotation of Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, and Matt Harvey out there every night and it wouldn’t be enough to win if the team only scores a single run.  Ugly, really ugly.

2. Call it selective memory, but I feel like Mike has claimed that each series is very important for the Yankees over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, I kind of agree.  It’s beginning to feel as though each game is a “must win.”  The team sits six games out of first place in the AL East, which is by no means insurmountable at this point in the season.  It’s not that these games are weighted differently from other season games.  It’s just that the team needs to capitalize on its opportunities – particularly against some of the weaker opponents, like the Royals, if they hope to make the playoffs despite a failing offense.  Yesterday, James Shields looked as shaky as I’ve ever seen him early on.  The team simply needs to do better if they hope to remain in contention.  On the plus side, the Yankees are only a game or so back from the Rays and Orioles in the standings, so a Wild Card berth is still very plausible even if a division title is looking less likely.  Also, the Yankees have a bunch of games against Texas, Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore remaining which helps (or hurts) their cause depending on how you look at it.

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

3. Doug Mittler wrote a quick blurb about Brian McCann on ESPN yesterday (Insider required).  It noted how McCann will likely be one of the top free agents available in the offseason and could demand a contract comparable to Yadier Molina – that is to say, a five year, $75M agreement.  I don’t know if the Yankees have the goods to acquire McCann from the Braves before the trade deadline, nor do I know if the Braves have any interest in trading him, let alone to the Yankees.  I also don’t know if the Yankees would be interested in him in the offseason given some of his prior injuries (including his most recent shoulder surgery) and their pending austerity budget concerns.  I’ll tell you what though, right about now he’d look awfully good in pinstripes.  Then again, so would Russell Martin (but that’s another point for another day).

4. So it looks like Robinson Cano has finally locked in his roster for the Home Run Derby.  To be honest, I generally don’t spend much time watching the All-Star break activities.  I’ll generally watch the first couple innings of the game itself (along with the last inning if I can to see Mariano Rivera pitch), and occasionally I’ll watch the first round of the Derby.  Still, I have to hand it to Cano for picking a really solid group.  Fielder, Davis, and Cespedes can all hit the long ball with the best of them.  It’ll also be nice not having the Kansas locals bitch and moan about Billy Butler getting snubbed this year.  I have to assume Robbie will have his father pitch to him again.  Hopefully he can knock a couple into the stands this go around.  On the other hand, I don’t quite get David Wright’s decision to invite Michael Cuddyer even though they’re apparently good friends.  I’m guessing Carlos Gonzalez and Bryce Harper will be shouldering most of the load for the National League squad.  It should also be interesting to see how many home runs get swallowed up by the vast dimensions of CitiField.

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Six questions this week. Use the Submit A Tip box to send us anything throughout the week, mailbag questions or otherwise.

(J. Meric/Getty)

(J. Meric/Getty)

Several people asked: What about Shelley Duncan?

The Yankees are looking for a right-handed bat and the Rays designated former Yankee Shelley Duncan for assignment earlier this week, so this seems like a natural fit. The 33-year-old forearm-smasher hit just .182/.297/.309 (75 wRC+) in 64 plate appearances for Tampa, and during his three years with the Indians (2010-2012) he put up a .231/.309/.430 (103 wRC+) overall line in 770 plate appearances. That includes a .239/.316/.421 (102 wRC+) line against southpaws, meaning he didn’t have a platoon split.

Duncan is a three true outcome type, with healthy power (career .193 ISO), walk (9.7%), and strikeout (24.4%) rates. He doesn’t do much other than that, meaning he won’t steal any bases or play even average defense in left or at first base. Is he better than Ben Francisco? Yeah, probably, but it’s not slam dunk. If the Yankees can pluck him off waivers, then go for it. Francisco’s been terrible. I wouldn’t go out of my way to acquire Shelley or sweat missing out on him, though.

Nick asks: Given his start, how likely is it the Vernon Wells matches/exceeds Nick Swisher‘s performance this year? If he does (or gets close), should we credit the front office with a brilliant move or did the Yanks just get lucky?

I don’t think that will happen, honestly. Even with the hot start, Wells is on a .298/.362/.532 (139 wRC+) line while Swisher is at .265/.386/.410 (123 wRC+). There’s a nice gap there, but Swisher is underperforming his career norms while Wells is far exceeding his. They’ll wind up meeting in the middle at some point. I expect Verndog to wind up closer to his updated ZiPS projection (113 wRC+) than his current numbers.

Brian Cashman basically admitted the Yankees got lucky with Wells a few weeks ago, saying “there was no magic, unearthed data point” they uncovered. They expected him to fill the Andruw Jones role according to the GM. Maybe Cashman’s just playing coy, but Wells has been so outrageously good that I can’t imagine anyone saw this coming. It’s 95th percentile stuff.

(J. Meric/Getty)

(J. Meric/Getty)

Mark asks: Are you surprised by Jose Tabata’s free fall in Pittsburgh since his debut season in 2010 at the young age of 21? Maybe I’m off base here, but I have to think he’d be a prime candidate to replace Curtis Granderson next year as I suspect the Yanks would have kept him in the minors to develop and mature his game — something he hasn’t had the opportunity to do in Pittsburgh playing in the big leagues.

Not really, you can never be truly surprised when a prospect fails. Tabata was never the same caliber of hitter/prospect as say, Jesus Montero, plus he is apparently older than originally believed. He never showed much power for a corner outfielder and that’s continued to this day.

The Yankees value makeup too highly to bring Tabata back. He had (at least) two incidents in the minors that led to his trade in the first place, plus he’s had off-field issues with the Pirates. The guy’s a .269/.335/.369 (97 wRC+) career hitter in over 1,300 plate appearances, plus he’s probably closer to 30 than his listed age of 24. Tabata can get the bat on the ball — career 14.8 K% and 82.8% contact rate — that’s always been his thing, but otherwise there’s not much to see here.

Dustin asks: Any chance the Yankees could pry Justin Ruggiano from the Marlins?

Oh I’m sure of it. No reason to think the Marlins wouldn’t move him for the right offer. Ruggiano, 31, had an insane BABIP-fueled (.401!) half-season with Miami last year, when he hit .313/.374/.535 (146 wRC+) in 320 plate appearances. He’s back down to .239/.300/.402 (95 wRC+) this year, which is right in line with his career norms.

As a right-handed hitting outfielder, Ruggiano owns a career .263/.328/.516 (128 wRC+) line in 236 plate appearances against southpaws. That’s spread across seven seasons, so it isn’t very useful. Ruggiano plays okay defense in the outfield corners and will steal a bag here and there, so he’s definitely someone worth looking into as a Francisco replacement. I don’t know what it would take to acquire him, but Scott Hairston was traded to the Athletics for a middling Triple-A relief prospect (Ryan Webb) following his breakout with the Padres. Seems like decent framework, no?

Jonathan asks: What do you think about possibly acquiring one of Atlanta’s catchers this year? It’s a strange situation because we don’t know if Evan Gattis is for real, Gerald Laird was awful for years and Brian McCann is coming off the surgery. Which, if any would you be interested in acquiring and what do you think it would take to get them. Thanks!

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

(Drew Hallowell/Getty)

I wouldn’t touch Laird, the Yankees have enough backups as it is. That’s the easy part. Gattis is a great story — seriously, read this — and the 26-year-old has hit .253/308/.542 (132 wRC+) as McCann’s replacement early this year. The consensus is that he isn’t good enough defensively to be an everyday guy behind the plate.

McCann, 29, was arguably the best catcher in baseball for the better part of a decade (118 wRC+ from 2006-2012) before hurting his right shoulder and struggling last year (86 wRC+). He had offseason surgery and is due to return to the team soon, as in next week. That will likely send Gattis back to Triple-A, though I suppose they could finagle the roster and work out a way to keep all three, at least for the time being.

I love the idea of acquiring McCann for half-a-season — he’ll be a free agent this coming winter — even considering the risk following his surgery. He’s strong defensively and a left-handed bat with power and patience. The team would also get a few weeks to evaluate him firsthand before decided whether to pursue him after the season. The price would have to be reasonable though, maybe something along the lines of two pretty good but not great prospects (assuming a deal happens right at the deadline).

Alex asks: Under the rules of the 1992 expansion draft, which players would you protect on the Yankees roster? Subsequently, if you were then picking, which unprotected player would you take?

We do this question every so often and it’s always fun. The expansion draft rules are right here, but here’s the short version: each team can protect 15 total players, but players with no-trade clauses must be protected. Players who were free agents during the offseason and players drafted in the previous two drafts (so 2011 and 2012 for us) are not eligible for the draft. AL teams can protect an additional four players after each round. Here’s who I would protect, assuming the draft was held last November 17th (same date as 1992 draft)…

No-Trade Clauses (4) Protected Pitchers (5) Protected Position Players (6) Notable Unprotected
Alex Rodriguez Phil Hughes Robinson Cano Boone Logan
Mark Teixeira David Robertson Brett Gardner Joba Chamberlain
CC Sabathia Ivan Nova Curtis Granderson Frankie Cervelli
Derek Jeter David Phelps Gary Sanchez Eduardo Nunez
Michael Pineda Mason Williams Vidal Nuno
Tyler Austin Slade Heathcott
Adam Warren

I think this is pretty self-explanatory, no? I was on the fence with Nunez because of the dearth of even decent middle infielders, but I opted to protect the third prospect (Austin) instead. The Yankees could probably trade him for a better infielder than Nunez anyway.

Hiroki Kuroda, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera would not be eligible for the draft since they were free agents last winter. Nunez, Nuno, Heathcott, and Warren would the four guys I would add after the first round, but a few of them would probably get plucked in the draft. Such is life. If was the expansion team picking from that lot of players, I’d take Heathcott first, no doubt about it. Warren and Nuno are useful pieces, but Heathcott has star potential and that’s what you’re looking for when you’re building a team from scratch.

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Got six questions for you this week. Remember to use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar to send us any questions, comments, links, whatever. Someone actually sent us a note the other day saying we should start a premium cheese line called River Ave. Bleus, so yeah. Anything is welcome.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Patrick asks: I know Michael Pineda‘s out until at least June and will have to build arm strength and yadda yadda, but could I be optimistic about him because his surgery was arthroscopic? I’m not expecting much in 2013, but what about the following years?

The fact that Pineda’s shoulder only needed to be scoped rather than the traditional, cut-me-open type of incision is encouraging. It was also an anterior tear only, meaning just the front of his shoulder. The typical kiss of death labrum tear is usually all the way around, front and back. That said, don’t trick yourself into thinking this is not a significant injury. There’s a chance — I don’t know what it is, but it definitely exists — he’ll never again be the guy he was prior to the injury.

Anyway, I expect the Yankees to send Pineda back to Triple-A for a few weeks next season once his 30-day rehab window is up just to delay his free agency. They already lost a full year of control to the injury, so they might as well get that back at this point. I don’t think they’ll worry too much about his arbitration status (Super Two), just the free agency. I’m hoping Pineda can provide about 80-100 league average innings next year, which would make me feel better about his long-term outlook. If he shows the same mid-90s fastball and wipeout slider as he did pre-injury, there’s would be a lot of reasons to be optimistic about 2014 and beyond.

David asks: What is the point of “mutual options?” Seems to me that if the player has a good year he’ll decline his side, if he has a crappy year the team will decline their side. Do any current Yankees have mutual options on their contracts and what is likely to happen to them?

The only time I can remember both sides picking up their half of a mutual option was Jason Giambi and the Rockies last offseason. That’s it. Mutual options serve little purpose as far as retaining a player go, so teams typically use them to push some money onto next year’s payroll (in the form of buyouts). If a club is up against its payroll limit, mutual options create a little extra flexibility. I actually wrote an MLBTR post about these things two years ago because they suddenly started popping up everywhere. The Yankees currently do not have a player under contract with a mutual option, either for next year or any point in the future.

Anonymous asks: Saw on MLBTR that the Braves might decline the option on Brian McCann. I know he had shoulder surgery but do you see any interest from the Yankees? If so, what kind of contract do you see him getting?

Yeah, I think the Yankees would have definite interest in McCann if he hit the open market because he’s a left-handed hitter with power and patience. He was the best hitting catcher in baseball for a few years, at least until Joe Mauer got healthy and started going bonkers. The shoulder surgery is a major red flag however, especially since it might keep him on the shelf for the first few weeks of next season. If the Braves decline what is essentially a one-year, $12M deal for McCann, I’d be very worried about the state of his shoulder. It wouldn’t stop me from looking into signing him, but the review of his medicals would have to be very thorough. It’s the whole “what do they know that I don’t?” thing.

(Brian Kersey/Getty)

Mike asks: If the Yankees don’t re-sign Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones for platoon DH how about trading for Victor Martinez? He’s got 2 years/ $25 million left on his deal, if the Tigers give him away (since with Miggy Cabrera and Prince Fielder they have no fit for him, and he’s coming off injury) and eat a little salary would you be in favor?

Martinez missed the entire season after tearing his ACL in an offseason workout, which somewhat prompted the Tigers to sign Fielder. I think they would have signed him anyway, but that doesn’t matter now. V-Mart has actually hit more homers (nine) at the new Yankee Stadium than any other visiting player, but that shouldn’t be the reason to acquire him.

I think the Tigers would eat some of the money to move him, but the problem is that Martinez is a first baseman and a DH only at this point. He hasn’t been a big league caliber catcher for about three years now, and I can’t imagine the knee injury helped his cause any. As much as I dislike it, the Yankees will continue to rotate their DH to rest their older players, which means acquiring a big money set DH probably isn’t a realistic option. Martinez definitely fits as a switch-hitter with patience, power, and contact skills though. I like the idea — obviously depends on how much money Detroit is willing to eat — but I don’t think the Yankees would go for it

John asks: How good is next year’s draft? If they get picks from Rafael Soriano, Nick Swisher, and Hiroki Kuroda and don’t surrender any via free agency, would it be a chance to get loads of fresh young high-end talent into the system? Also would they consider trading draft picks for players now like they do in NBA, etc?

I’ll answer the second question first: I love the idea of teams being able to trade draft picks but MLB does not allow it. Well, small market teams can trade their competitive balance picks, but that’s a crazy animal the Yankees won’t be involved in.

As for the actually draft class, it’s too early to know how strong it is. I’ve seen it written in a few places — by Keith Law, Baseball America, etc. — that his year’s draft is weaker than last year’s, but I feel like we hear that every year. Once the college and high school seasons open in the spring and guys start popping up because they’ve added velocity or a new pitch or learned how to hit a curveball, the quality of the draft class will change dramatically. I’ll stick with my default draft answer — there are always good players available regardless of round, it’s just up to the team to find them.

Jamal asks: The Yankees got 20-plus-HR seasons from their catcher, second baseman and center fielder – how rare of a feat is that?

My initial reaction when reading this question was that it probably doesn’t happen all that often, but it’s not some kind of historic feat. Maybe a team does it once every three or four years, something like that. Instead…

Rk Year Tm Lg #Matching
1 2012 New York Yankees AL 3 Robinson Cano / Curtis Granderson / Russell Martin
2 2010 Toronto Blue Jays AL 3 John Buck / Aaron Hill / Vernon Wells
3 2003 Atlanta Braves NL 3 Marcus Giles / Andruw Jones / Javy Lopez
4 1996 Baltimore Orioles AL 3 Roberto Alomar / Brady Anderson / Chris Hoiles
5 1965 Milwaukee Braves NL 3 Mack Jones / Gene Oliver / Joe Torre
6 1939 New York Yankees AL 3 Bill Dickey / Joe DiMaggio / Joe Gordon
7 1938 New York Yankees AL 3 Bill Dickey / Joe DiMaggio / Joe Gordon
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/25/2012.

That’s it. Seven times in history. I only used a 50% playing time requirement as well (meaning the players had to play at least 50% of their games at the positions). Bump it up to 75% and those 1965 Braves disappear. A handful of teams get 20+ homers from two of those three positions each year, but getting them from all three is certainly a rare feat throughout history, even recently.

Joe Girardi spoke the other day about the Yankees getting power from non-traditional power positions like … well … center, second, and catcher, which is why they can carry a non-power guy like Brett Gardner in left. The old saying is that you build a team up the middle and the late-90s Yankees following that model perfectly, with elite players in center, at short, second, and once Jorge Posada took over, behind the plate as well. The Yankees still get a ton of production from their up the middle spots and it’s a big reason why they contend every year.

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