In a move that is reminiscent of the free-spending Yankees, one of the top free agents on the market is heading to New York as catcher Brian McCann signed a five-year, $85 million deal to head to the American League East. The contract also includes a vesting option for a sixth year for $15 million.
This should hardly come as a surprise. After their worst season in 21 years, the Yankees are looking to regroup and, even with their previously-stated desired to remain under the $189 million luxury tax threshold, they needed offense and they needed a catcher. This will help in both areas.
The 2013 incarnation of the Yankees were still Bronx Bombers, though not because of their typical power, but instead because their offense bombed. Their batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage all ranked in the bottom four of the American League, while their 144 home runs were second-worst, ahead of only the Royals.
Their production from the catcher position was a significant reason why those numbers were so low. Their catchers, mainly Chris Stewart and Austin Romine, hit .213/.289/.298 with eight home runs and only 26 extra-base hits. Even at a position not known for its offense, those contributions are brutal.
McCann will be an obvious and immediate upgrade. During his nine-year career, he has hit .270/.350/.473 with 176 homers. He’s had at least 18 in all eight of his full seasons. He shouldn’t have a problem hitting that benchmark batting from the left side of the plate in Yankee Stadium.
Defensively, he won’t be a liability. Last year, he threw out 24.2 percent of attempted base-thieves, slightly above his career average. He is also one of the best in the league at framing pitches, while he is well above average in Passed Pitch Runs, which measures a catcher’s ability to prevent runs by blocking pitches.
For a team in a position like the Yankees, the McCann signing, while risky, does make sense long term. McCann is still just 29, so he is in the prime years of his career and is not quite at the point that he will likely begin to wear down. He has, however, battled injuries over the last three seasons which have contributed to some below-average production.
But the Yankees will have options with him during the back end of this deal. If they chose to move the nine-time all-star, he could slide to first base when Mark Teixeira’s contract runs out after the 2016 season. He would also make a good DH candidate down the road. Either of those changes might make sense, especially when prospect Gary Sanchez is ready for the majors.
A secondary aspect of this signing is the effect it will have on what else the Yankees do this offseason. General manager Brian Cashman has spent the last couple of years working to get the team’s salary cap below the league’s luxury tax threshold by next season. Either management’s philosophy has changed or they are going to get creative with the rest of their roster.
With McCann, the Yankees now have committed about $137 million to their players. And that’s without Robinson Cano. It is more likely than not that he will return to New York, and even if he signs for $20 million a year (which is probably low), that will still leave them with about $30 million to fill several holes. They are also certainly hoping that Alex Rodriguez’s PED suspension is upheld so his $25 million will be off the books, too, to free up even more money.
As it stands now, though, the McCann signing gives the Yankees some catching stability and some badly-needed power. It’s a start toward rebuilding a roster that needs some help.