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Move over, Chris Stewart. Adios, Austin Romine. Better
PEDs luck next time, Francisco Cervelli.
Brian McCann is the new catcher for the New York Yankees.
According to the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham, McCann has signed a five-year contract worth $85 million with the Yankees. The deal also contains a vesting option for a sixth year with a $15 million salary, as well as a full no-trade clause.
The Boston Red Sox had widely been reported as a potential landing spot for the former Atlanta Brave, but now they’ll have to look elsewhere for next year’s starting catcher, be it the return of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a different free agent signing, or perhaps a trade (according the Abraham, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington has hinted at such a possibility).
I doubt the Red Sox would have ultimately signed McCann; with a couple of highly regarded catching prospects in the pipeline and close to big-league ready, there’s almost zero chance Cherington et. al. wanted to invest much in a catcher, especially at those years and dollars. However, McCann is arguably the best catcher on the free agent market — his career slash line is .277/.350/.473 — and he will now play for the arch rival Yankees.
Last year, the Yankees finished the season with a record of 85-77, good for 3rd in the AL East and 6.5 games out of the final wild card spot. They missed a variety of starters that contributed to their dismal season, including just 17 games of Derek Jeter, a brief stint by Mark Teixeira, just the final 44 games from Alex Rodriguez (his supposed replacement, Kevin Youkilis, only played through 28 injury-plagued games), and 61 games of Curtis Granderson after two separate HBPs sidelined him with broken bones.
Catcher, however? That was a self-imposed weak spot. Last offseason, the Yankees let free agent Russell Martin sign with the Pittsburgh Pirates, choosing to turn over the keys to the catching committee of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, and Francisco Cervelli.
Cervelli, of course, was injured for an extended period of time before being suspended for PED use in connection to Anthony Bosch. He had given them decent numbers through 17 games (.269/.377/.500), but without a heavy regimen of PEDs, Cervelli couldn’t be expected to keep that up (hey, wait a minute…). Romine, meanwhile, managed to make the Yankees worse in his 60 games with a negative WAR (-0.2 to be exact)! Chris Stewart, who started the majority of games behind the plate, was all of 0.5 wins better than a typical AAA replacement player, a grimace-inducing .211/.293/.272.
McCann represents a marked improvement over what amounted to 0.4 wins out of the catcher’s position (J.R. Murphy contributed 17 games of -0.2 WAR as well) for the Yankees in 2013. He was a 2.7-win player last year for the Braves, returning from offseason shoulder surgery to bat .256/.336/.461 with 20 HRs, 57 RBIs, and 43 Rs in 102 games (402 ABs).
That figure was good for 12th-best among all major-league catchers, which is as unimpressive as it sounds. He finished behind Jason Castro, Yan Gomes, Jonathan Lucroy, and Wellington Casillo, not exactly household names. (McCann also finished almost a full win behind Saltalamacchia.) He’s already had surgery for a torn labrum (which Red Sox fans will remember sapping Adrian Gonzalez’s power), and is approaching the wrong side of 30.
Still, more time removed from surgery could provide a boost on his production, putting him closer to his nearly 4-win season just two years ago (.270/.351/.466 in 2011 for 24 HRs and 71 RBIs). After all, 2013 saw him coming back from surgery at less than 100% to start his year, while he played through the labrum injury for much of 2012, depressing his numbers. With a full offseason of recovery and strength and conditioning and more games played due to better health and the chance to DH every so often, McCann could even replicate his two other seasons of 4.0-plus WAR and two more over 5.0.
I’d be worried about this deal holding up five years down the road, of course, but that seems to pretty universally be the price of almost any free agent signing, especially of an All-Star caliber player. If I were the Yankees, of course. But then again, they print their own money — as do the Red Sox — so what do they care? (McCann is also supposedly willing to transition to first base, much like Joe Mauer already will, so that eases some concerns, along with the option to DH. But my mind is better eased by pinstriped Monopoly money.)
Sprinkle in the theoretical return of Jeter and Teixeira, maybe a bounce back year from C.C. Sabathia (4.78 ERA, 4.10 FIP), and don’t be surprised if the Yankees improve on their 2013 record next season — despite the departure of the greatest closer of all time. I sure hope not, of course, but much like McCann taking over for last year’s hapless catching contingent, such a low standard almost guarantees improvement. As much as I’d like to count the Evil Empire out, though, they still remain the Yankees.