Yesterday, news broke that the New York Yankees had signed free agent catcher Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal with a $15 million vesting option for 2019. Thus far, the baseball world's reaction to the 29-year-old's new deal has generally been favorable, with most experts noting that McCann is essentially a perfect fit in the Bronx.
Our own Chris Cotillo writes that McCann represents a massive upgrade over the Yankees current catching corps:
The Yankees have been prioritizing catching all offseason, and have now landed the best backstop on the free agent market. The team primarily used Chris Stewart behind the plate last season, but his lack of offensive production (.211 with 4 HR and 25 RBI in 109 games) forced the team to make a drastic move this offseason.Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy also saw time at the position, but struggled offensively as well.
Yankees catchers were atrocious in 2013 as the position emerged as a major black hole (.587 OPS from Yankees catchers last season) for a club that failed to reach the postseason for just the 2nd time in 19 years. Stewart and Romine received the lion's share of at-bats at the position last season, but neither were expected to be the long term answer. Promising catching prospect Gary Sanchez is widely regarded as the eventual heir to the Yankees' catching job, but he is just 20 and has played only 23 games above the Single-A level. By the time Sanchez is ready to take over in New York, McCann may very well have already moved to first base or designated hitter to accommodate his aging knees.
He can DH when he's not catching and could eventually replace Mark Teixeira at first base when his contract expires after 2016. McCann's bat is good enough -- an above-average hitter every year of his career except 2012, when he played through a bad shoulder -- that he wouldn't be a liability at first base or DH.
Signing McCann also means the Yankees could forgo signing a DH -- think Carlos Beltran -- and use that extra money to sign a younger outfielder, maybe Shin-Soo Choo. McCann and Jeter can rotate through the DH position when they're not in the field.
As the folks at Talking Chop write, the Braves were never really seen as a strong consideration to sign McCann this winter. The team is expected to hand over the catching reigns to sophomore Evan Gattis, who had a strong debut in 2013, getting on base at just a .291 clip, but slugging .480 and hitting 21 bombs in just 105 games. Prospect Christian Bethancourt will likely back him up barring an unforeseen acquisition.
The Rockies' interest in McCann is quite perplexing as the organization is generally considered to be financially strapped, and it's not as if they are one All-Star catcher away from competing. But the most interesting part of their push to sign McCann is that the Rockies already have a solid young backstop on their roster. Wilin Rosario is coming off a year in which he hit .292/.315/.486 with 21 home runs and a 105 OPS+, and has now topped 2.0 WAR in each of the last two seasons. He will also be earning the league minimum in 2014, making him a much more valuable commodity than McCann. Plus, unless the team plans on trading Rosario or moving him to another position, it would make little sense for the team to sign McCann to play first base, as much of his value is tied up in the fact that his bat is well above-average for a catcher, whereas it would be less impressive at first. Though it would still be playable, he certainly wouldn't be worth the $60+ million most teams valued him at. The Rockies also have a reliable first base option already under contract in outfielder Michael Cuddyer who could move to the position were the team to put Charlie Blackmon in their starting outfield. Cuddyer had what was easily the best season of his career in 2013 when he won the NL batting title and posted an OPS 37% above league average.
The fact that the Rockies have made strong pushes for McCann and Jose Abreu this winter does suggest that the team could be in like to make a big splash this offseason. The team's biggest holes are at first base (if they don't move Cuddyer there), on the bench, in the bullpen, and in the rotation.
With promising pitching prospects such as Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray nearing the big leagues, the club could fill their rotation opening by signing a pitcher such as Dan Haren or Paul Maholm to bridge the gap, but they could also make a bigger splash by doling out a long-term contract to someone such as Ricky Nolasco or Ervin Santana. First base should be easier to fill as their are quite a few cheap, yet productive free agent first baseman this year, including Corey Hart, Justin Morneau, and James Loney
McCann, who turns 30 in February, was believed to be the Rangers’ top free agent target at the outset of the offseason, but the team’s first two moves of the winter have somewhat mitigated the need. The team re-signed Geovany Soto with the idea of playing him more regularly at catcher, then traded for Prince Fielder to tie up first base and potentially move Mitch Moreland into more of a DH role. In addition, the club has become more convinced that top prospect Jorge Alfaro will be ready to play in the majors in the next year or two.
The Rangers have long been interested in acquiring McCann to both bolster their catching position and add some much needed pop to their lineup. Of course, as Grant notes, the Rangers have already accomplished each of those tasks in recent weeks, so it made little sense to go out and waste valuable resources on an aging and expensive catcher like McCann. Not signing McCann could also allow them to be major players in the market for a corner outfielder such as Shin-Soo Choo, which would only further strengthen their already elite roster.
Ben Lindbergh of Baseball Prospectus adds that McCann fits the Yankees' mold of a catcher with excellent pitch framing ability ($). Lindbergh writes that catcher's receiving skills tend to decline at a very slow rate, meaning McCann could be able to stick behind the plate longer than the normal backstop due to his stellar ability to frame pitches. Even in limited playing time last season, McCann's pitch framing still saved 22 runs, which was the 5th best mark in baseball.
On the surface, the Yankees massively upgraded a position that was essentially an automatic out in 2013. On the short-term, I think it can be a good deal. How it works long term really depends on whether or not his body holds up. The Yankees still have a lot of work to do this offseason, but if they were going to go after a big name like McCann, I'm glad they got it out of the way early on.