(Courtesy of the AP)
(Originally published at IIATMS/TYA)
If you were away from all forms of media or under the proverbial rock this past weekend, the Yankees and Brian McCann agreed to a 5-year/$85 million deal. The deal comes with a vesting option that can make it 6 years/$100 million and it's contingent on McCann passing a physical, but there's little reason to think that won't happen. For all intents and purposes, McCann can be considered the Yankees' new starting catcher.
The reaction to the signing has been most positive thus far. I know I was a big fan of it. In McCann, the Yankees got the best player available at their position of greatest weakness in his prime, and they got him for basically market value. That's not to say the deal is a 100%, no-doubt win for the Yankees. There are a few things that could turn the signing against the Yanks, things that surely influenced William's decision to steer clear of McCann in his Project 189 team construction before starting to come around to the idea of McCann at catcher yesterday. In the interest of looking at this deal from all angles, here are the things that could potentially turn it into a loser for the Yankees down the road.
The No-Trade Clause
Any kind of no-trade clause adds risk to the team signing a player. That risk increases when the clause is a full no-trade like the one reportedly included as part of McCann's deal, and it increases again when it's attached to a catcher who will be in his mid-to-late 30s by the time the deal ends. Not that they're planning on trading him anytime soon, but the Yankees would already have a hard time moving McCann as it is because of the value of his new contract. If they got into a situation down the road where trading McCann would be beneficial, they'd have an even harder time doing it because of the full no-trade.
Part of what makes that no-trade clause a point of concern is the heavy workload McCann has already put on his body behind the plate. He's missed time the last 2 seasons because of the shoulder injury, surgery, and subsequent recovery time, and while that's not nearly enough to label him "injury-prone" or "breaking down", it's a reminder of how grueling the catcher position is and how much McCann has already experienced that at age 29. In 9 seasons, he's caught over 1,000 regular season games and 8,800 innings, plus another dozen postseason games and all the time spent crouching on those knees in ST. Moving to the American League can help lessen the wear and tear on McCann's body thanks to first base and the DH spot, but those spots won't be readily available with Jeter and Teix still around for the next few years.
The Recent Trends Against Left-Handed Pitching
McCann is a lefty hitter and nobody needs to be reminded of how that translates to hitting in Yankee Stadium. What they might need to be reminded of is how some of the Yankees' top lefties have been trending down against same-side pitchers these last few years and how that can weaken an already platoon-heavy lineup. McCann is a career .259/.319/.424 hitter against southpaws (99 wRC+), but his production over the last 4 seasons has been trending in the wrong direction, from 115/117 wRC+ values in 2010 and 2011 to 80 and 72 in the last 2 seasons. How much of that is a byproduct of the shoulder injury and how much is due to natural regression? That remains to be seen.
The "Left-Handed Pull Hitter" Status
McCann's recent decline in production against lefties becomes potentially more problematic when you consider the overall trend that many of the Yankees' lefty hitters have followed in becoming more pull-happy, one-dimensional hitters. Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, and especially Mark Teixeira from the left side, they've all taken a step away from the more balanced hitters they used to be to focus on pulling the ball more and it's resulted in teams changing their approach against them to take away the holes on the pull side. The short porch in YS3 is very alluring to left-handed hitters and it's definitely going to help McCann's already strong power numbers to the pull side. What it hopefully doesn't do is turn him into another inflexible hitter incapable of consistently going the other way for hits. It's not like he's Chris Davis or anything hitting to left field, although he did post an .801 OPS going there in 2013. It would just be a nice skill to still have in his bag of tricks when he gets into his mid-30s and his bat speed starts to decrease a bit.
Don't get me wrong, I'm still a huge fan of this signing and a huge fan of what I think it might mean for the rest of the Yankee offseason. But Brian McCann is not a perfect free agent free from all flaws and possible problems down the road. There's still some risk here for the Yankees, risk they willingly took on by offering the vesting 6th year option and full no-trade clause. Hopefully McCann can stay healthy through the life of the contract to minimize that risk as much as possible.