McCann shows a spark, but will Braves give him new deal?

Brian McCann's solo homer in second inning jump-started the Braves' offense. (AP photo)

Brian McCann's solo homer in second inning jump-started the Braves' offense. (AP photo)

(UPDATED: 10 p.m.)

In his first six full major league seasons, Brian McCann has played in six All-Star games, won an All-Star game MVP, won five Silver Slugger awards, accumulated more home runs, RBIs, extra-base hits and game-winning hits than any catcher in baseball, won a lot of games, smiled a lot, never caused a riff and has proved to be so genuine and honest that he probably wouldn’t know a magic muscle-inflating pill if one did a backflip into his morning Cocoa Puffs.

“He puts up numbers, and he did it even when other guys were taking performance-enhancers,” Braves teammate David Ross said. “He’s more like, ‘How many Advil should I take?’ I can’t corrupt him. He won’t even drink a Red Bull. I want to punch him.”

All of which makes you wonder how it could be that the Braves and McCann may part ways at some point in the near future.

The Braves are off to a good start. They own the second-best record in the National League after Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Cincinnati. Until this game, almost everybody had been hitting except McCann (.231), their most consistent player over the past several seasons. But after he homered, walked and singled in his first three at-bats, maybe that aberration is complete.

There figured to be a market correction. With a career average of .286, McCann has been too good for too long for him to not rebound. The question is whether those numbers will factor into what the Braves do next with McCann contractually.

His salary this year jumped to $11.5 million (after escalators). The Braves have a $12 million club option for next season, but negotiating during a contract year can be problematic. So logic suggests the team and McCann’s agent will start talking soon.

But are the Braves fully committed to re-signing McCann? St. Louis signed catcher Yadier Molina to a five-year, $75 million extension. If we assume that’s the benchmark, it questionable whether Wren will give a long-term, $15 million-a-year deal to a catcher. There’s no room for McCann (now 28) to eventually move to first base (Freddie Freeman), and the National League doesn’t use the designated hitter.

“We have a mutual understanding of how we’ll approach this process,” Wren said of negotiations, not elaborating. It’s executive Latin for, “No comment.”

McCann said, “I understand it’s a business. They have to do what’s best for them, and I have to do what’s best for me. I’m just going to play as hard as I can and let everything else fall into place.”

This much is certain: There were fan backlashes after the way the Braves handled the exits of John Smoltz and Tom Glavine. Those guys were at the end of their careers. If the Braves decide a popular player in his prime such as McCann is too expensive, even with Chipper Jones coming off the books, cars may be torched.

How McCann plays this season has obvious ramifications. He struggled in the second half last season (.203) after hitting .310 at the All-Star break. He acknowledges now he came back too early from a strained oblique, saying, “Ninety mile-an-hour pitches were looking 95. The game sped up on me. If that happened again, I would definitely play a few more games in Triple A.”

This season, he feels “seven to 10 hits” have been lost to opponents often shifting their defense to the right. But he says he’s healthy, adding, “When I’m feeling good I get hits. I just have to start using the whole field. I have to start making that shift irrelevant.”

The knock on McCann always has been his defense, but his backup, Ross, believes criticism is overstated. Statistics show McCann annually allows among the most stolen bases in the league, which no doubt will be brought up in talks. But Ross believes the numbers are skewed, saying, “We don’t have the quickest pitchers to the plate.”

At worse, Ross said, McCann is “average” on defense.

“When you consider his offense and that he calls a great game, I’ll take that,” he said. “Mac’s one of the best. Catching is a demanding position. It’s not like you’re an outfielder and can take an inning off because you didn’t get a fly ball hit to you. I just hope the Braves realize what they have.”

A split is something most would rather not think about right now. But one-team athletes like Chipper Jones are a rarity.

By Jeff Schultz

214 comments Add your comment

Bob

May 15th, 2012
7:13 pm

1eyedJack

May 15th, 2012
7:15 pm

Say it ain’t so.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:16 pm

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:17 pm

I pay $2.20 to show.

Bob

May 15th, 2012
7:17 pm

Frank Wren has to make the best baseball decision and if McCann is the type of person I think he is – his salary demands will be reasonable. Of course, they are all overpaid anyway!

BiggDawgK

May 15th, 2012
7:19 pm

The Braves are killing it both pitching and hitting. McCann is a good Athens boy I’m sure he will turn it around.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:22 pm

Bob — “Reasonable” always is a tricky word though, isn’t it? Also worth noting that looking back, the Braves got McCann for a relative bargain over the past six years, given his production. This could be “makeup” time.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:30 pm

Good calls at first and third. No argument here. Nice throw from Hinske.

Dawg Haus

May 15th, 2012
7:31 pm

McCann is the heir apparent to Chipper as the heart and soul of this team. The Braves should reward him the way the Cards did Molina.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 15th, 2012
7:32 pm

We’ll never know but I think Chipper’s advice to BMac on a contract would be “Go west young man.”

Braves have to move him. Imagine telling your wife how you left 75M on the table because you love ATL

tonyb

May 15th, 2012
7:33 pm

Finding catchers of McCann’s caliber is very difficult. Coupled with the fact that he’s a fan favorite, local product, and probably the best player on the team, the Braves have to keep him.

Davey

May 15th, 2012
7:34 pm

Granted the Braves have done a better job than Atlanta Spirit (aka Daddy’s Boys) at spending money the right way but losing McCann would be a big blow for marketing with Chipper hanging it up and no really mainstream start names (excluding Huddy as a 1 of 5 day player). Until Heyward and Freeman get a couple more years under their belt of consistent baseball, BMac is really the main cog to this team at the plate and at the ticket window.

Mr. Kotter

May 15th, 2012
7:34 pm

I’m split on the Bourn dilemma. Pay him or not to pay him

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:34 pm

Dawg Haus — I second that emotion. But I’ve got a bad feeling about this one.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:35 pm

“Chef” Tim Dix — I think it will be more like, “Go Northeast, young man.” (Red Sox or Yankees.)

Aaron

May 15th, 2012
7:36 pm

I know it’s naive but I dream of us having a few more Chippers (life-time Braves) with not only Mac but Freddie, J-Hey, Prado, and some of the pitchers. I know that likely won’t happen with any of ‘em – we don’t have the pockets the Yankees do, of course, which is why they had their core – and it hurts to consider. Focusing on the here and now and enjoying them while they’re here is all you can do, but it’s still hard to not look forward. The days Blauser, Glavine, and Javy left and even Maddux even though he wasn’t a Brave to start with all hurt, with Andruw I was pretty much expecting it, but still. I’ve fallen in love with this team, same as before, and I hate to know it’ll eventually separate.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:37 pm

Well, there’s a slump-buster: McCann crushes pitch to right — 1-0 Braves.

1eyedJack

May 15th, 2012
7:37 pm

Catchers are tough. Tools of ignorance and all that. Pay the man. How does he compare to Johnny Bench?

Homerun. I rest my case.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 15th, 2012
7:38 pm

Mr. Cot teer, here’s a note from my mother that says pay him.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:40 pm

I think if McCann gets a new contract based on this game, I should get 5 percent. Just saying.

"Chef" Tim Dix

May 15th, 2012
7:43 pm

I’m thinking 5 for 22M, team option year 6.

Dawg Haus

May 15th, 2012
7:44 pm

I see what you mean, Jeff. The Braves aren’t exactly known for dishing it out in contract years. I hope he stays a Brave till retirement, though!

Dawg Haus

May 15th, 2012
7:47 pm

If McCann goes anywhere else, I think it would be Boston. With the way things have been going for them thus far this season, I’m sure they’ll be ready to gut that team and go on a Steinbrenner-esque spending spree this winter.

tmc

May 15th, 2012
7:52 pm

The toughest thing about McCann is that when he hits, you can live with his downfalls. When he doesn’t hit (like 2nd half of last year and most of this year), he is a SIV defensively.
His technique is horrendous and he’s not going to change that now.

The big problem for the Braves is if Brian’s hitting stays or falls back to average or below. You can’t pay a catcher big bucks and get bad defense also.

*and btw, his defense i’m speaking of is not his lack of throwing out base runners. It’s not catching balls in dirt, not blocking balls and lack of technique to attempt properly.

Billy Mac Dee

May 15th, 2012
7:53 pm

I’m torn. Either we try and sign McCann or we try and sign Bourn. As we have seen so far this year, Bourn is more important to the life of the offense. We have two interesting catcher prospects in the minors right now (Christian Bethancourt and Evan Gattis), one with great defense and one with some serious power.

I love McCann as much as anyone but maybe we need a stud center fielder right now more than we need to keep our stud catcher…

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:54 pm

It’s a hit for Jack Wilson (.146)! Sorry. Thought that was worthy of noting.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:56 pm

Billy Mac Dee — I understand it may come down to that choice: McCann or Bourn. But Bourn is represented by Boras and I’m just not sure, even as good as he’s been, that he’s a break-the-bank centerfielder and leadoff hitter.

Bill

May 15th, 2012
7:56 pm

I love McCann but I’d rather the Braves sign Bourn than Mac..Ross can do the job till the kid at AAA is ready. Go Braves and thanks Jeff..Always love your reports.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:56 pm

And as I type that, he gets a hit.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:58 pm

Great piece of hitting by Prado, going to right for RBI single. Braves 2-0 with Chipper up and Bourn on third.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
7:59 pm

Three straight singles — 3-0.

P B Orr

May 15th, 2012
7:59 pm

Unless McCann shows some leadership ability I will not be sad to see him go. I like watching the kid Braves anyway before we send them to the Yankees and Red Sox.

McCann fails again and again in clutch situations. He will not modify his swing or make any attempt to adjust to the shift (e.g. choke up, shorter stroke, smaller bat). This sort of stubbornness does not make a captain. I am told he calls a good game, but so does Ross.

McCann will benefit in the American League as a designated hitter.

tmc

May 15th, 2012
8:00 pm

i freaking love Martin Prado!
you go boyeeeeee.

Bill

May 15th, 2012
8:00 pm

how about that Chipper Jones…?

Sautee

May 15th, 2012
8:02 pm

Hey Jeff, do us Hawks fans a favor and let your editor know that Cunninghams blog is full. No more comments, though there’s no announcement of it BEING closed.

It’s frustrating when you can’t post with your blog community. AJC is being slack. Again.

We now return to your somewhat regularly scheduled in-game Braves blog.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:02 pm

PB Orr — I can’t agree with you on the “clutch” factor with McCann, save the second half last year.

Stephen Colbert

May 15th, 2012
8:05 pm

Here’s a question for you Jeff;

If corporations are indeed people, why isn’t Mitt Romney indicted as a serial murderer?

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:06 pm

Sautee – There’s no such thing as a blog being “full.” If it was closed, it was closed for a reason.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:09 pm

Braves will have batted around after this intentional walk. Jack Wilson, who started inning with single, coming up.

Tom from omaha

May 15th, 2012
8:09 pm

Anybody have any suntrust tickets for memorial day weekend. I’m coming all the way from Nebraska

Chris

May 15th, 2012
8:11 pm

Mac has been great in clutch situations in his career so that comment was way off base @P B Orr. He’s going to get an offer, but it won’t be the highest on the table. It will just come down to if he wants to stay in ATL or not. Personally I think he will take less money, but it depends on how much less. He doesn’t seem like he would enjoy NY or Boston, but he will do great wherever he goes. He’s already a team leader and the best catcher in baseball. Hopefully he sticks around, but we can’t keep everyone. Maybe our uninvolved ownership will sell to someone who really cares or they will pony up the dough and let us keep these guys.

Aaron

May 15th, 2012
8:11 pm

Absolutely love Jay battling like that and then ripping a double on the ninth pitch. Five-run lead for Huddy, just a beautiful thing.

Even more beautiful is who they’ve done it against. Cueto’s their ace, so it’s that much more gratifying.

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:11 pm

Four runs should do it — Braves lead 5-0. Four singles, double, walk, sac fly in inning but leave the bases loaded.

Rimfire

May 15th, 2012
8:14 pm

Why does business sense have to matter?
As was stated earlier in the day, Chipper off the books, Lowe off the books, etc, surely at some point Liberty will attempt to keep the asset value high enough to be worth selling at some point.
It was said that the TV deal Ted brokered handcuffs Liberty. Why does every other sports entity get to RE- negotiate, but not the Braves??? Angels Rangers and Dodgers just inked HUGE TV deals. Who is minding the store? ? ?

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:15 pm

Aaron — No kidding. Cureto entered game 4-0 with a 1.12 ERA. He’s already thrown 70 pitches in 3 innings (5 runs, 6 hits, 2 walks, homer, double).

Jeff Schultz

May 15th, 2012
8:19 pm

Not that it matters at 5-0 but Hudson doesn’t look all that great.

Bill

May 15th, 2012
8:21 pm

Stephen Colbert..what about Fast and Furious–should Eri Holder and the Pres be charged and indicted for being serial murderers? Why not?

TomahawkChoppin'

May 15th, 2012
8:21 pm

The 24 million from D Lowe and Chipper is going to help with Bourn and Mac, but it may not be enough. Do you think that if they didnt resign JJ that the extra 5.5 million could help? I feel like 29.5 can sign Mac and Bourn

Aaron

May 15th, 2012
8:24 pm

Jeff, it’s like a theme with them. Santana, Dickey, Wandy Rodriguez, Halladay, all three Cards pitchers over the weekend, Cueto tonight, we know these are such great pitchers and the guys grind out the at-bats and make things happen and make those aces all look human. Yeah they’ve been outmatched at times like by Blanton, etc, but there’s no pitcher at this point you look at the pre-game matchup and think “Oh my gosh we’re gonna get carved up like a side of meat. We have no hope unless the guy gets hurt.”

Bill

May 15th, 2012
8:25 pm

Everyone should make sure you vote for Bourn All-Star.