Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Free Agent Target: Brian McCann

(Sharing a moment with Carlos Gomez.  Courtesy of USA Today Sports)

Of all the poor personnel decisions the Yankees made last offseason, the worst one is still probably the decision to let Russell Martin walk.  In Martin, the Yankees had a guy who was a solid all-around defensive catcher, had familiarity with the pitching staff, and could handle the bat pretty well.  The downgrade from Martin to the Francisco Cervelli-Chris Stewart tandem that was the team's backup plan was bigger than the front office probably realized, and that downgrade became even greater when injuries forced untested rookies Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy into regular duty.

Overall, the Yankees got a pathetic .213/.287/.298 batting line from the catcher position this season, good for a .266 wOBA that ranked 26th in MLB and 0.9 total fWAR that was good for 23rd.  They've apparently realized the err of their ways and have made upgrading that position one of their primary objectives this offseason.  The name at the top of their list to do so is former Atlanta Brave and recent qualifying offer recipient Brian McCann.

McCann is 29 years old and will turn 30 before the start of next season.  He was the Braves' starting catcher from 2006 through this season and in that time he established himself as one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.  A lefty swinger, he owns a .277/.350/.473 career batting line (.353 wOBA, 117 wRC+), has hit 20 or more home runs in each of the last 6 seasons and 7 of his 8 as a full-time catcher, and has very strong career BB and K rates (9.5% and 14.5% respectively).  McCann is a 7-time All Star, 5-time Silver Slugger award winner, and before Yadier Molina's offensive ascension there was a time not too long ago that he was generally regarded as the best catcher in the National League.

We know Joe values defense behind the plate, and part of what made McCann the best in the biz was his reputation as an above-average defensive catcher.  He's not going to wow anybody with his stats or skills.  His career caught stealing percentage is a pretty blah 23.75%.  But McCann is known to be a good pitch framer and very good at blocking pitches in the dirt and keeping balls in front of him.  Most defensive metrics rate him positively, for whatever that's worth, and he has led the NL in some important defensive stats before.  While he might not win you any games or save a ton of runs with his defense, it's rare that he'll cost you wins or a ton of runs with the glove.

The biggest red flag with McCann is his health and concerns about how much of a toll the wear and tear of being an everyday catcher has already taken on his body.  After catching more than 128 games every year from 2006 to 2011, McCann's 2012 season was cut short by a torn labrum in his right (throwing) shoulder.  The shoulder bothered him for most of the season, his worst to date, and offseason surgery to repair the tear delayed the start of his 2013 season, a season in which he played only 102 games.  McCann's performance upon returning from the injury (.347 wOBA, 20 HR, 2.7 fWAR) eased concerns that he was already on the down trend, but he does have a lot of mileage on him.

There's also the non-baseball (read: monetary) concerns, which have been the primary determining factor in a lot of the Yankees' recent player acquisition decisions.  McCann's past production and collection of awards has him poised to ask for and receive a very healthy offer this offseason.  The contract crowdsourcing exercise at FanGraphs projects a 4-year deal worth almost $60 million for McCann this offseason and a lot of the talk around the baseball world is that a $15 mil AAV deal is in the right ballpark.  That's a significant chunk of money to pay to a catcher with McCann's mileage, especially when it would also require the Yankees to surrender their 1st round pick to sign him.

There's also some slight concern about McCann's personality and how he might fit in the Yankee clubhouse.  He was involved in a few dust-ups with other players and teams this season due to perceived violations of baseball code in his eyes, and he does have a bit of a reputation as a prickly guy, but that really shouldn't factor into New York's decision.  He's the best hitting catcher available, still in his prime, and his lefty bat could play up even more hitting in YS3.  The decision to sign him isn't as big a no-brainer as it is with Masahiro Tanaka, but McCann would obviously be a huge upgrade for the Yankees at the position most in need of one.

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