After a disappointing 2013 season, the New York Yankees took a major step towards improving in 2014 when reports surfaced that they had agreed to a contract with free agent catcher Brian McCann. According to multiple news outlets, McCann’s deal with the Yankees will pay him $85 million over the next five seasons and also includes a vesting option for another season that could raise the total to $100 million.
Given how poor the team’s catchers performed in 2013, McCann represents a major upgrade for New York even with the inherent risks that come with handing out expensive, five-year deals to free agents. Last year, the unimpressive group of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, Austin Romine, and J.R. Murphy combined to produce just 0.9 WAR, ranking 12th in the American League. They posted a .213/.287/.298 batting line and a pedestrian 61 wRC+.
McCann’s bat will be an immediate upgrade in the Bronx, as the lefty slugger has hit 20 home runs for six straight seasons, while averaging a .353 wOBA and .193 ISO throughout his career. Injuries may be a slight concern considering McCann has missed at least 30 games for three straight seasons, but even in an abbreviated campaign last year, the former Brave still compiled 2.7 WAR and a 122 wRC+. Though he turns 30 in February, McCann’s walk and strikeouts rates still sat near career norms in 2013, and he also remains an above-average defender and pitch framer.
For the Yankees, this contract indicates that they will be major players on the market this winter. After signing McCann, they look unlikely to stay under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, but questions always persisted over whether or not the team’s front office was truly serious about that strategy. Factoring in McCann’s deal, the team now has roughly $120 million committed to eight players for 2014, and adding in the money that needs to be allocated to all their arbitration-eligible players, that figure rises to somewhere just under $140 million.
If Alex Rodriguez is suspended, that will give the Yankees an extra $26 million to work with, but also a hole to fill at third base. Add in the ongoing negotiations with Robinson Cano, the team’s supposed interest in Carlos Beltran, and their need to acquire another starting pitcher or two, and the Yankees appear likely to be big spenders and serious players throughout the offseason.
In giving up a draft pick for McCann, New York did forfeit the 18th pick in next year’s draft, which is the best position they have held in years and also could have helped aid a talent-deprived farm system. But the Yankees were always going to add a major free agent this winter, and the fact they made such a major upgrade at catcher makes losing that draft pick a much easier pill to swallow. Plus, if Cano, Curtis Granderson, or Hiroki Kuroda sign elsewhere, they could receive multiple picks in the compensation round as a result.
Ultimately, the Yankees were never going to forfeit their present for a single draft pick that may or may not turn into a quality major leaguer. As our Andrew Shen wrote earlier this season, the Yankees are a team perpetually committed to the here and now, and trying to balance present concerns with a half-hearted attempt to build for the future wouldn’t have done the organization any good either.
McCann fills a gaping hole in the team’s lineup and will be a major improvement upon last year’s Yankee catchers. The team can shift him over to first base when Mark Teixeira’s contract ends in 2016 if need be, and given the escalating amount of money being spent on free agents, paying McCann $17 million over the next five years is a pretty fair price to pay for someone with a plus bat at an offensively starved position like catcher.
Simply put, the Yankees needed to improve their present product, and in signing McCann, they made the biggest and best upgrade they possibly could have on the free agent market.
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All stats courtesy of FanGraphs.com.
Alex Skillin is an regular contributor to Beyond the Box Score and also a Web Editor for SoxProspects.com. He writes, mostly about baseball and basketball, at a few other places across the Internet. You can follow him on Twitter at @AlexSkillin.