Sunday, November 24, 2013

Brian McCann Signing Thoughts & Afterthoughts

(Courtesy of Jason Getz/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

I was about to sit down to dinner with my family last night when I went to the computer for one last news refresh.  Needless to say, I wasn't expecting to see a barrage of updates on negotiations with Brian McCann, those negotiations being "close", and then the first few tweets reporting that he and the Yankees had agreed to a 5-year deal.  There had been no indication that anything was imminent earlier in the week.  McCann's meeting with the team hardly made the news, as it was among the first team meetings he had and most expectations were that he'd have more visits and work towards building his contract value up leading into the Winter Meetings.

Yet there it was, confirmed by one of the most reliable sources in baseball.  McCann is going to be a Yankee, the first big move of the offseason has been made, and the stage could be set for a big offseason in New York.  A lot more thoughts on the signing and what it means after the jump.

- First, the major upgrade the Yankees just made at catcher can't be understated.  Even in limited playing time coming back from shoulder surgery, McCann outhomered the Yankee catchers 20-8 in 2013.  He drove in 13 more runs than the Yankee catchers, hit 2 more doubles, and posted a .256/.336/.461 batting line (.347 wOBA) that was light years better than that of the Yankee catchers (.213/.287/.298, .266).  In 175 fewer PA, McCann tripled the fWAR output of the 4 Yankee catchers, 2.7 to 0.9.  He's simply a much better player than any of them could hope to be.

- He probably wasn't at his physical best last year and McCann was still drastically better than anybody the Yankees had behind the plate.  When he is healthy, his numbers are even better and it's reasonable to expect his 2014 to be better than his 2013.  He's a smart hitter with above-average K and BB rates and his lefty power is going to play up hitting to the pull side in Yankee Stadium.  He'll lengthen the middle of the lineup and he's a perfect fit for the Yankees' offensive philosophy.  Now that Joe Mauer is moving to first base full time, it's not a stretch to say McCann is the best offensive catcher in MLB.

- But he's not all offense.  McCann's problems throwing out baserunners have been documented, but what he lacks in arm strength and release speed he makes up for with elite pitch framing and ball blocking skills.  McCann can work the corners better than almost every catcher in baseball and his ability to stop balls in the dirt and keep them in front of him should give the Yankee pitching staff, whatever it ends up being, confidence that they can throw their offspeed stuff in any count to try to get a swing and miss.  He won't get confused for Yadier Molina, but McCann is far from a stiff behind the plate.

- As for the contract itself, it appears to be very fair market value.  MLBTR was projecting a 5-year/$80 million contract ($16 mil AAV), so 5/$85 mil for $17 mil a year isn't that far off.  The details on the vesting option for the 6th year and what milestones need to be reached to trigger it are still unknown, but with that option bringing the AAV of the deal down to $16.667 million it does lessen some of the risk for the Yankees.

- Even the length of the deal itself doesn't pose much risk.  Chances are McCann will have to transition to first base/DH later in the contract, but he should be able to spend the bulk of his time as the starting catcher.  He turns 30 in February, which means he'll play the first 3 seasons of the contract still in his physical prime.  Years 4 and 5 will be at age 33 and 34, older and in the regression neighborhood but still not really "old" when you consider the ages of other FA catchers like Carlos Ruiz and A.J. Pierzynski.  If nothing else, McCann should still be able to contribute above-average offense through the entirety of the deal, vesting 6th year or not, even if he's no longer the everyday catcher.

- While the mileage McCann has already racked up behind the plate is a bit of a concern, the Yankees will assuredly take steps to make sure they keep him rested and give him days off and DH days where they can.  That time might not be readily available next season with Jeter around, but once he retires it should become much easier to work in a regular rest schedule for McCann.  The Yankees have always been good about not running their catchers into the ground and there's no reason to expect that to change now that they've brought in an elite one.

- As for the impact of this deal on the rest of the offseason, I think it's clear that the Yankees aren't playing around.  One signing doesn't definitively signal the budget plans are out the window, but the fact that the Yankees stayed true to their comments about not waiting around for Robinson Cano is a bad sign for the rest of MLB.  The Yankees have been leading the hot stove charge since the end of the season.  They're set the pace with most of the big FA names and now they've followed through on that by locking one of them up before the Winter Meetings.  Every team out there now has to take the Yankees much more seriously as a threat to sign any player they're connected to, and that will force other teams to change their plans.

- The pre-Winter Meeting agreement really sticks out to me and might actually be my favorite part of this deal.  While McCann was projected to get $80 mil, there were reports and rumors out there that he could get pushed up to the $100-120 million range with multiple teams bidding.  In all likelihood that would have happened at the meetings, and maybe another year or 2 would have had to be tacked onto the deal to get it done.  To avoid all of that and sign McCann for basically market value is a huge win for Cash and the front office.

- Speaking of Robbie Cano, David Waldstein reported last night that Cano and his camp were set to meet with the Yankees again this coming week to discuss his new deal.  They've failed to generate any real market for Robbie thus far, and even crawled to the Mets to try to get something going.  Now they've seen that the Yankees mean business and it appears as though it's kicked them in the ass a little bit to start seriously working on a new contract instead of sitting back on their $310 million heels.

- Roster-wise, this creates an even bigger logjam at catcher and will definitely trigger at least 1 and most likely multiple moves to clear it up.  Chris Stewart is all but non-tendered at this point and Francisco Cervelli has to be penciled in as the backup if you believe Cash's statement about offering him a new contract.  Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy both get bumped back down to Triple-A to compete for playing time and they both really need to be catching every day down there.  It wouldn't surprise me to see one of them get dangled as trade bait now to create that everyday opportunity for the other.

- While we're talking prospect trade bait, I think it's fair to consider Gary Sanchez a much bigger potential trade piece than he was yesterday.  He's the team's top prospect and the new "catcher of the future," but that future gets pushed back with the insertion of McCann into the starting role.  McCann's going to be the everyday starter for at least the next 3-4 years and it's not like Sanchez can just spend that time toiling away in Double-A and Triple-A.  The future is now for the Yankees at catcher and Sanchez could bring back a lot more in a trade than any other Yankee prospect.

- Lastly, I know McCann has built a reputation as a bit of a grouch and a jerk on the field.  That'll happen when you start multiple fights with guys over their home run celebrations.  But if you're one of those people who doesn't like this signing because you think McCann isn't a good guy, grow up.  Grow the fuck up and come down off your morale high horse.  Newsflash, people.  Babe Ruth wasn't that great a guy in his day and neither was Mickey Mantle.  Not every professional athlete is going to be a choir boy.  If you can't get past that to look at the value of this signing objectively and recognize how good it is from a baseball standpoint, do me a favor and don't talk about the signing because that's just weak.  Brian McCann is a perfect fit for this team.  He's in his prime and the Yankees snatched him up before his asking price could get super inflated, changing the landscape of this entire offseason in the process.  If you can't get excited about that as a Yankee fan, I feel sorry for you.

- Like I said last night, the first big stone of the offseason has been cast and it was cast by the biggest, baddest ballclub on the block.  If this is a sign that the payroll plan is on shaky ground, good.  I want the Yankees to spend to win because that's their greatest strength.  If it's not, at least it's a sign that they're planning on moving ahead without A-Rod in the picture and have added a key piece in trying to build a contending team on a budget.

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