Free Agent: Brian McCann

As we learned a couple of days ago, reports say that the Yankees are aggressively pursuing both Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran. Leading up to these reports, we heard a ton of rumors about the Yankees’ interest in the catcher, and a good portion of analysts have him destined for the Bronx.

By most accounts, McCann is a perfect fit for the Yankees. He’s a left-handed power hitting catcher who’s still just 29 years old. McCann’s character has come into question after his recent feuds with Carlos Gomez and Jose Fernandez over breaking unwritten rules, but he also has a type of strictness that we haven’t seen out of a catcher since Jorge Posada. In fact, McCann fits so well with the Yankees because he resembles Posada’s his left-handed power and club house personality.

Throughout his career, McCann has hit .277/.350/.473 with a 117 wRC+. He has a great eye at the plate, drawing a 9.5 BB% over his 8 seasons with the Braves, and doesn’t strike out all too much with a 14.5 K%. In recent years, McCann has shown some regression, but he’s also dealt with a number of injuries. It cost him a significant chunk of 2012 and put a damper on his stats. Once he returned from shoulder surgery in Spring Training, McCann looked healthy, as far as catchers go, with the worst injury resulting in just 3 games off before the playoffs. His 2013 slash of .256/.336/.461 is extremely impressive for a catcher recovering from shoulder surgery, but McCann is capable of more. His 2013 BABIP of .261 was hindered by a low batting average (.656) on line drives.

Meanwhile, McCann’s defense has remained exceptional. Even with his shoulder fresh off surgery, McCann threw out 28% of base runners in 2013, which was right on line with his career rates. He also only allowed 3 passed balls in 2013, which we can compare to Chris Stewart‘s 12. And then there’s pitch framing, which earned Stewart a job with the Yankees back in 2012. According to Max Marchi’s catcher framing model and Ben Lindergh of Baseball Prospectus, Brian McCann ranked 5th in baseball in framing for 2013, with 18.5 runs saved, only before Jose Molina, Yadier Molina, Alex Avila, and Derek Norris. The Yankees have shown that they value pitch framing and catcher defense over the last couple of years, and when you combine McCann’s defensive and offensive ability with his demeanor behind the plate, the catcher is a perfect fit for the Yankees’ strategy.

But there are a couple of worries with McCann. As I mentioned earlier, his 2012 shoulder surgery cost him a good portion of that season, but it is also something to watch closely going forward. Labrum tears in the shoulder are complicated injuries that have mixed results. Catchers are less dependent on their throwing arm than pitchers, but there’s still a risk in throwing the ball behind the plate. McCann has thus far proven that his shoulder is healthy, but labrums can easily re-tear for some patients. There’s also some inquiry into how this may effect his offensive performance, as instability in the shoulder can have a detrimental impact on his power. In 2013, he again hit 20 home runs, but it’s hard to tell if he’ll be able to maintain this power if he suffers a setback.

The benefits to playing in Yankee Stadium are obvious. His left-handed power fits well into the Bronx, as well as the other stadiums across the AL East. He could continue to be an annual All Star with the Yankees, but the questions will remain, is he worth it? MLB Trade Rumors projects that he receives a 5 year $80 million offer, which I think is on the low side. Catchers are tough to find in free agency, but the Yankees also have a number of catching prospects. Gary Sanchez is a top positional prospect that could be just a year or two away from the major leagues. J.R. Murphy has also shown major offensive breakout in 2013, and his pitch framing was ranked 5th amongst catchers in Double-A and Triple-A.

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