The Yankees have finally signed a catcher, Brian McCann of the Braves, and landed him on a five-year, $85 million deal. It’s easily the largest deal the Yankees have made since they signed CC Sabathia to an extension way back in 2011.
It doesn’t mean that we have to forget about the year the Yankees decided to go with Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli instead of a real major league starting catcher, but it does mean that we won’t have to suffer through that again for a few years.
McCann will turn 30 this offseason and he hasn’t had a truly productive season worth $17 million a year since 2011, so it does come with significant risk, but it fixes a major hole in the Yankees lineup. Yankees catchers ranked 26th out of 30 last season with a .266 wOBA while McCann, even in a down year, managed a .347 wOBA (Only the Indians had a higher wOBA from their catchers last year at .361).
McCann has battled shoulder problems over the past two years. That has limited him at the plate to a .242/.316/.426 line in 2012 and 2013. The hope is that he’ll get back to where he was in his prime years of 2008-11 where he hit .281/.362/.482 and averaged 22 homers a year. If he can do that, or even get close to it, for a 3-4 year span then the Yankees will have gotten their money’s worth.
Unfortunately, McCann is not the best defensive catcher. but he can hold his own enough to let his bat be a major weapon for him. Throughout his career he’s averaged 24 percent caught stealing (league average is 28 percent), was worth -1.4 defensive runs saved, and had a RPP (Catcher Blocked PItches in runs above average) of 3.7. None of this is to call him Johnny Bench, but he’s not Jorge Posada either.
Plus, it’s a solid deal for the Yankees because it’s a position where stability is needed to handle a pitching staff and having a strong offensive catcher gives them a strength at a spot where most teams are weak. $17 million is a lot to spend on him, but at five years it’s reasonable. If they get three above-average productive years out of him behind the plate and then move him to first base in 2017 when Mark Teixeira leaves it should work out just fine.
This also gives the Yankees some flexibility behind the plate as far as backups. They basically have four guys who can fill-in and be a great backup next year with Stewart, Cervelli, Austin Romine and J.R. Murphy. A case can be made about a lot of them, but I feel like the best option would be to designate Cervelli and Stewart for assignment, use Romine as the backup and give Murphy one more year in Triple-A.
The big thing this does, though, is it frees up Gary Sanchez to instantly become the Yankees top trade chip. Well, he probably was before, but they were much less likely to deal him.
I like the idea of dealing Sanchez. He’s still young and has plenty of promise left, but he’s also been a bitter sweet prospect for the past few years. He’s never had the best reputation as a prospect, has been reprimanded by the Yankees on at least one occasion and his development has not come as far along as the team would have hoped by now. He’s not a terrible prospect, but he hit just .253/.324/.412 in 117 games last year. For a guy with a so-so defensive reputation, and who will be ready before four or five years from now, it seems to me that they are better off trading him.
The thing is that even though this signing is nice, the Yankees are far away from fielding a championship caliber team. They missed the playoffs last year and I feel that they overachieved to do it and, if I’m right, they are going to need a lot more big improvements to turn this team into a true championship contender.
I’ve heard so many Yankees fans say, ‘if the Red Sox can go from last place to world champions then so can the Yankees.’ It’s not that easy. It’s going to take a big commitment from the owners and a real commitment at that. The $189 million payroll idea sounds good, but not with the bloated contracts of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixera, and Sabathia on the books.
This deal has to be the first of many for the Yankees and they have to now, with the catcher position locked down for a few years, look to deal some of their prospects including Sanchez and probably Murphy too, while still being aggressive on the free agent market to really turn this team around. McCann alone is not enough just like Alfonso Soriano at last year’s trade deadline was not enough.
The Yankees have the catcher position locked up on a not totally crazy contract and have freed up some of their best prospects to be traded. It’s a good start, but they have more work to do.
(Photo edited by Robert Pimpsner).