All-Star catcher Brian McCann is indeed leaving the National League East. The 29 year old backstop has reached a deal with the New York Yankees that will pay him $85 million over five years, with a vesting option for the sixth.
McCann was expected to sign elsewhere, and the American League will allow him spend time at designated hitter. He can also fill in at first base for Mark Teixeira who has dealt with injuries in recent years. It makes sense for McCann and he makes sense for the Yankees.
What is surprising, however, is just how much McCann got. His deal breaks out to an average annual value of $17 million per season. That’s the highest ever for a catcher acquired in free agency. Joe Mauer makes more at $24 million, as HardballTalk notes, but his deal was part of an extension. It was a very good year to be the top catcher on the market.
McCann moves on after playing over 100 games in each of the last eight years with the Braves. He was one of the team’s best hitters for almost a decade and doubled as a leader in the locker room. McCann, also a Georgia-native, helped define the Braves for a long time. Now he, along with Tim Hudson, are gone as Atlanta moves forward into a new era.
One element to consider in the McCann deal is why the Braves let him go. Sure, they now have Evan Gattis who can take over and be just as good offensively. They also get the Yankees’ first round pick (18th overall) because McCann was a Type A free agent. Gattis, however, doesn’t have the experience calling games and working with pitchers that McCann does.
The money McCann got now evokes memories of last offseason when the Braves signed outfielder B.J. Upton to a similar deal. Upton came on board for five years, $75.25 million through free agency. He got a little less money per season, but provided far less value for Atlanta in 2013.
The first year of Upton’s deal was a bit of a disaster as the 29-year-old hit just .184 through 126 games and struck out 151 times. After hitting 28 home runs and 78 RBI in 2012 with Tampa, he had just nine homers and 26 RBI with the Braves. Even his base-stealing numbers suffered, likely because he was rarely on base. He had just 12 steals in 2013 after at least 30 in the previous five years.
Who would the Braves rather have, if given the choice? They had to see this coming with McCann, so maybe the choice was Upton. That doesn’t look very good at the moment.
Upton could rebound in 2014, Jayson Werth has shown a bad first year in a big contract doesn’t necessarily predict the future. But if McCann leaving is in any way a casualty of his deal, it could hurt the franchise moving forward. We’ll see.