Brain McCann isn't likely to command a deal as valuable as Robinson Cano or Jacoby Ellsbury thanks to the risk inherent to catching, but he may draw more interest than any other player hitting the market this winter. The Braves catcher will be 30-years-old next season and should be able to stay behind the plate for years to come thanks to a strong defensive skill set. He is also an excellent hitter with 20+ home run power and a patience approach at the plate. Given the low bar set for offense at catcher, all but a few lucky clubs would benefit greatly from a plus defender behind the plate who also hits around 20 percent better than league average. With his position holding the cost down some, plenty of teams can also afford to take a shot at him.
Even beyond the brutal nature of his position, McCann does have a few negatives affecting his price this winter. He is a lock to be tendered a qualifying offer so he will cost anyone who signs him a draft pick in what appears to be a very strong class. He also needed shoulder surgery prior to this season. Shoulder injuries can have significant impact on hitter's ability to drive the ball but since McCann has managed a .258/.338/.470 with 20 home runs in 390 plate appearance this year, those concerns are not going have the impact they may have had if he had struggled.
McCann is a true impact talent at the most difficult position to fill and that should make for some extremely interesting bidding this off-season.
The Yankees are in an unfamiliar position right now. They have no chance at winning the AL East, which belongs to Boston and they are three games back in the wild card, trailing Tampa Bay and just ½ game ahead of Baltimore. With a $228 million dollar payroll, these results are simply not acceptable to fans, ownership or the front office. They may have made some noise about wanting to be under the luxury tax limit next season but as soon as the market opens, they will be back to the buy side with a vengeance.
Re-signing Robinson Cano will be a high priority, but landing McCann will be a very close second. GM Brian Cashman and company may have been eyeing McCann when they let Russell Martin slip away last season. Even if they weren't, after getting almost nothing from their catchers this season, it will be almost impossible to outbid them on McCann this winter.
The Blue Jays went really big last off-season, taking on a huge chunk of salary to bring in Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson and Emilio Bonifacio in trade and few deals have ever worked out so poorly. GM Alex Anthopoulos put the team in win-now mode with that deal and the R.A. Dickey trade and this off-season he can only double-down or sell at a loss.
There was no bigger hole in the Blue Jays game plan than their catching. Toronto catchers cost their team 1.7 wins according to fWAR and frankly, that seems like a generous estimate. J. P. Arencibia's .195/.230/.364 batting line is the best of anyone who donned the tools of ignorance for the Jays, more than twice as good as his primary backup Josh Thole, who has hit .144/.233/.212. If there was ever a team that needed a player like McCann, it is the 2014 Blue Jays. With $110 million on the books before arbitration raises, it is hard to imagine them out bidding the Yankees, but 162 games of this kind of catching might make a GM do something crazy.
The Phillies are done with Carlos Ruiz and his $5 million price tag after this season and according to Ryan Lawrence of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia will prioritize finding an upgrade behind the plate this winter. Lawrence notes that the Phillies are already heavily left-handed and that could make McCann less attractive to them, but it is hard to imagine a team prioritizing catching this off-season without trying hard to land the Braves star. The Phillies have over $100 million already committed to next season, but if they are determined to get McCann they can bid with almost anybody.
The Rangers got more than anyone could have expected from A.J Pierzynski this season but they are still missing a good deal of offense from their 2010-2011 peak. Pierzynski will be a free agent at the end of the year and he will be 37-years-old this December. Texas could certainly bring him back, but counting on him to even matching his passable .278./303/.440 performance at the plate is probably a bad idea. Only two names on the market really provide an upgrade and ex-Rangers farm hand Jarrod Saltalamacchia has a much weaker track record than McCann and he failed too much in his time with the team to appeal to fans. If the Rangers want to get back to the top of the division, adding McCann makes as much sense as move I can imagine. Like the Phillies, they have a lot of money already on the books, but they can still throw plenty of money his way.
Potential dark horse bidders
The Red Sox are far more likely to re-sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia than they are to land McCann but that might not keep them out of the bidding. If nothing else, they will probably make a mid-range offer from him just to make sure that the Yankees sweat this one.
With David Ortiz nearing the end of the road and Salty on the market, they have good reason to kick the tire here apart from the desire to see New York overpay. McCann would upgrade the catching position some right away and give them future DH at some point down the road. Boston has two strong catching prospects in the minors in Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez but both are a few years away from starting at Fenway. McCann would bridge that gap perfectly and then give them the kind of left-handed power bat their system currently lacks when he needs to get out from behind the plate.
Atlanta would love to keep McCann around but it is hard to see how they can afford him. They only have around $44 million committed to next season before arbitration, but they have an incredible 13 players potentially in line for raises through arbitration and a few cases, like Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman, could be near record-setting. They were just over $90 million in payroll this season and they have only topped $100 million in payroll twice. Most of the $19.2 million they have coming off in the books from Tim Hudson, Paul Maholm and Eric O'Flaherty becoming free agents will be lost to arbitration.
The Braves also have Evan Gattis and a more defensively polished prospect in Christian Bethancourt. Gattis could be an adventure behind the dish as the everyday catcher but his bat would carry anything that ranks as tolerable defense for the short term.
Even if the Braves can't pay top dollar, we shouldn't count them out. Hometown discounts are typiccally granted in extensions not when everyone is in on the bidding, but there has to be some real value to playing in a place where you have built up good will, fan loyalty and positive relationships. How much that value translates to in actual dollars is purely a personal choice. I would be willing to bet that the Yankees can outbid such intangibles, but you never know.
What will he get paid?
In writing about McCann's upcoming free agency, David O'Brian of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution drew the comparison between McCann's like price tag and Yadier Molina's five year/$75 million deal with the Cardinals. That is as a good a starting point for estimates as you will find. Molina is much better defensively and his last three seasons have been better than McCann's offensively by a fair margin as well but he signed his deal before hitting free agency so it is lower than what he might have drawn in an open bid. With so many big-market contenders likely to join the bidding, I think he will pass that deal fairly easily. Five-years/$85 is probably close to market value but I think he will get bid up to six years and closer to $90-$95 million.