After playing while hurt for much of a career-worst 2012 season, Braves catcher Brian McCann had shoulder surgery Tuesday that will likely require a recovery period of at least six months and force him to miss the beginning of next season.
The Braves haven’t said if they will pick up the $12 million option on McCann’s contract for 2013. It was generally assumed they would, then decide later whether to offer a contract extension to the six-time former All-Star catcher who would otherwise become a free agent.
Dr. Xavier Duralde, Braves orthopedist, did the surgery on the posterior portion of the right shoulder, which should prevent further subluxations (partial dislocations) like those McCann endured frequently while hitting during 2012. A tear in the labrum was larger than an MRI had shown and was repaired arthroscopically.
Noted specialist James Andrews and two others also studied the scan from a contrast dye-injection MRI on the shoulder last week and concurred on a surgery recommendation.
McCann, 28, was an All-Star in six consecutive seasons and a five-time Silver Slugger Award winner as the best-hitting catcher in the National League before 2012, when he hit .230 with a .300 on-base percentage and .399 slugging percentage. Those were easily his worst marks for a full season, far below his previous career slash line of .286/.358/.486.
His 20 homers also were his fewest in a full season since a career-low 18 in 2007, and his 14 doubles, 67 RBIs, 121 games played and 487 at-bats were career lows.
An MRI exam in August showed what was diagnosed as a frayed labrum and cyst, which hindered McCann only while hitting, not throwing.
The dye-contrast MRI last week showed the injury in greater detail, and when Duralde operated Tuesday he found the labrum tear was “slightly larger” than the exam had indicated, the Braves said.
A team official said McCann is expected to return to light baseball activities in four months and, if rehab goes as planned, should be able to return to full baseball activities in six months, around mid-April. That timetable would likely sideline McCann for at least the first month of the season.
Braves general manager Frank Wren hasn’t commented on whether the surgery or McCann’s rehab period would have any effect on the pending decision regarding the 2013 option.
McCann said on Oct. 6, the day after the Braves lost to St. Louis in the NL Wild Card game, that has “pretty sure” he needed surgery. “We already basically know what is going to happen, what needs to happen,” he said.
Wren said that day it hadn’t been determined if surgery would be necessary and that a contrast dye-injection MRI later that week would give a better indication. He said McCann got a standard MRI in August, not the dye-injection type, because the latter would have required McCann to miss more playing time during the season.
“From what we know, it would not be a surgical repair,” Wren said Oct. 6. He added, “We may find out with the MRI with contrast that there’s more going on in there.”
McCann made $11.5 million in the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2012, and veteran backup David Ross had an increased role in the last two months of the season while McCann missed time to rest the shoulder. He got two cortisone shots at different times after the All-Star break, which provided only temporary relief.
McCann also dealt with knee tendinitis that affected his movement behind the plate for a brief period late in the season. An MRI of the knee showed no damage and that inflammation subsided.
The Georgia native, who has spent his entire career with the Braves, struggled with his swing in the first three months of the season, likely a carry-over from 2011 when he came back too soon from a mid-season oblique strain and fell into bad habits trying to protect his side. The shoulder also began to bother him during the 2012 season.
Soon after McCann got his swing problems ironed out this season, hitting .308 with nine homers in an 18-game stretch in July, the shoulder injury worsened and the joint began “biting” when he extended on some swings or got out in front of off-speed pitches. McCann hit .201 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 29 strikeouts in 134 at-bats over his final 39 games, and Ross got the start over McCann in the Wild Card game.
Ross completed the second year of a two-year contract and is eligible for free agency. Both he and the Braves have indicated a desire to bring him back in 2013, but he’ll be 36 in March and is not considered a starting candidate on an everyday basis.
McCann could have shut it down when the shoulder pain persisted instead of taking cortisone injections and possibly risking further injury, but said that wasn’t even something he considered.
“I’ve got 24 teammates that show up here every single day,” he said on Oct. 6, after the playoff loss. “I’ve been battling with them since February and I wanted to see this thing to the end. Whether that puts me behind a little bit, it was something I was willing to do.”
Wren said Oct. 6 that the Braves would discuss contract options and other matters during their organizational meetings, held in the past week outside Orlando at the team’s spring-training headquarters.