Yankees sign Brian McCann for big short-term gain

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

Did the Yankees just buy the best catcher on the market? You betcha. Is it going to be a good move in the short term? Probably. In the long term? That's a different matter.

Reaction, counter-reaction, and overreaction. Somewhere on this scale lies the Yankees signing of Brian McCann to what is a five-year, $85 million deal with a vesting option for a sixth year. The contract will keep McCann in pinstripes from his age-30 season through age 34 or 35.

This is a deal that comes predigested. As you will (and likely have) read at any media outpost in the universe, McCann is a very consistent player. He hit .300 a couple of times early in his career, but over the last five years, seasons in which he had four campaigns that you can hardly tell apart and one possibly injury-inspired off year, he's hit .262/.343/.453, averaging 126 games and 21 home runs a season. It's easy to imagine the combination of McCann's left-handed swing and the unctuously friendly confines of Yankee Stadium producing even more.

McCann does have his flaws: Although in his career he hasn't suffered too badly against same-side pitching, over the last couple of years he hasn't hit left-handers at all. Shoulder injuries have meant that he's not too hard on the opposition running game. He's already caught over a thousand games, is already in the top 100 for games caught, and the Yankees are betting he'll be healthy and productive enough to make his way into the top 10; if he averages 130 games caught over the next six years, he'll just about get there.

It's a tall order. On average, McCann has been worth about 2.5 wins above replacement per season over the last five years. In his early seasons he had four- and five-win seasons. Maybe he'll get back there with the aid of Yankee Stadium, maybe he won't. Still, if he averages that same 2.5 wins a season over the six years of the deal, he'll be worth a total 15. Note, however, that from 1900 to present a relative handful of catchers have compiled that many wins from their age-30 season through the end of their careers. McCann is certainly talented enough that he will be a member of that class, which now numbers about 30, but let's turn the idea of career catching on its head, and instead of asking how many catchers have performed well during baseball's version of middle age, let's ask how many catchers have caught as many major league games as McCann has by the age of 29. The answer is 13, just 13:

Most Games Caught Through Age-29 Season


G caught through 29

OPS through 29

WAR through 29

G caught  after 29

OPS after 29

WAR after 29

J. Bench







I. Rodriguez







Ray Schalk







T. Simmons







Bill Freehan







B. Wynegar







Gary Carter







T. McCarver







Steve O'Neill







Y. Molina*







J. Kendall







F. Hayes







Al Lopez







*Still rolling on, doncha know.

The average for post-29 games caught by this crew is 520. Still, we can throw out a bunch of them, right? Conditioning is better than when most of those jokers played, and the more recent guys -- Pudge-Rod, the Kid, Kendall -- were the ones who kept on going, even if they left their bats on the side of the road.

The Yankees are paying for more than 2.5 wins a year, for more than mere longevity. In the short term, they're going to see a vast improvement in production at catcher, but that's something of a gimme given just how far down they were this year, having decided to punt the position after letting Russell Martin leave town. They got all of .213/.289/.298 out of the combination of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, Francisco Cervelli and J.R. Murphy -- all they could have expected to get. Even when Stewart had long since shown he was incapable (as if his career to date hadn't predetermined that outcome), they rattled no cages, made no moves, accelerated no timetables, just rode the same old same old right over the falls and out of the postseason. There were other reasons, of course, CC Sabathia's vanishing act, the multitude of injuries, the products of age and infirmity.

Those are not so easily corrected. The sour aftermath of this particular self-inflicted wound coincided with McCann's arrival on the free-agent stage. That was a temptation that proved too tough to resist, despite the fact that either Romine or Murphy might yet turn out to be serviceable players and that Gary Sanchez, should he ever get his offense, his defense and his attitude rowing in the same direction at once, might turn out to be that rare thing -- a backstop who's a middle of the order hitter. So you stifle all of that, you throw the 18th-overall draft pick next year out the window, which is to say the very thing that has a high likelihood of making this very old team even slightly younger.

The Yankees tried patching this way in the 1980s. It didn't work. They need to develop top-flight pitching on their own, because the influx of TV money into the game has eroded their financial advantage. The Cy Young Award types are not making their way to the free agency the way they used to. By the time they got a shot at Clayton Kershaw he'll have enough mileage on him to have gone to Jupiter and back. To grow your own, you need access to the first round. McCann can't help but be an improvement on Stewart's limp bat, but he can't help a lot of other things, like the pitching and a cast in the outfield corners so old that it would be better suited to play King Lear than left or right.

None of this is to say that more moves aren't coming, or that, taken in a vacuum, trading a first-round pick, with the possibility of getting a major league player or even a star, for the certainty of whatever McCann is going forward, is automatically a bad idea. It's that (a) the Yankees have a lot of work to do to make all the possible negative repercussions worthwhile, and (b) realistically, McCann's window is pretty small.

Complete Brian McCann coverage at Pinstripe Alley

And here's another thing that no one seems to be thinking about: The Braves love local product more than any other team, repeatedly drafting Georgia products each June. McCann, a second-round pick back in 2002, was born in Georgia, went to high school in Georgia, did a chunk of his minor league apprenticeship in Georgia, and played major league baseball in Georgia. The country is smaller than it used to be, more homogenized; every city, north or south, has its Starbucks and its McDonald's. Whatever culture shock that comes with working in a new place must surely have been reduced, and even if it has not, it never stopped players from succeeding regardless of their point of origin. Georgian Ty Cobb went to the Hall of Fame playing in Detroit, Earle Combs, the Yankees' great center fielder of the 1920s, was known as the Kentucky Colonel, and Bill Terry hit .401 for the New York Giants in 1930 despite being born in Atlanta at a time when it wouldn't have been uncommon to meet veterans of the Confederate States Army on the street. That's a far cry from Starbucks and McDonald's. Still, you never know when something like that is going to bother someone. Remember Eddie Lee Whitson, product of Tennessee.

In short, did the Yankees just buy the best catcher on the market? You betcha. Is it going to be a good move in the short term? Almost certainly. His presence will mean fewer batting orders with three-out certitude like the Overbay-Ryan-Stewart combo that was gracing the bottom of Joe Girardi's batting orders in September. That in itself is a blessing. But do all those positives make the move a no-brainer, no-doubt-about-it positive? No. Time will tell on that one.

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