Should the Braves keep Brian McCann? For one year, yes

Brian McCann packs his gear, but probably not for good. Not yet, anyway. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Brian McCann packs his gear. (AJC photo by Phil Skinner)

Brian McCann underwent shoulder surgery Tuesday and is expected to miss four to six months. This came at an awkward moment for both player and club. The Braves have until three days after the World Series ends to exercise their option to keep McCann for the 2013 season at $12 million. Should they decline, McCann would become a free agent.

To allow McCann to walk away — it’s doubtful he would be responsive to any Braves’ overture to re-sign at a lower price — is within the Braves’ contractual rights. Letting him leave, however, would not be in their best immediate interests.

Even as we stipulate that the McCann of the past 15 months has been a shadow of the man who made the All-Star team six years running, we must also acknowledge that, assuming a return to health, he’s an above-average catcher. The worthy backup David Ross notwithstanding, the Braves will need a No. 1 catcher in 2013.

Asked Wednesday if McCann’s surgery will affect the Braves’ choice, general manager Frank Wren said via phone: “It’s not a topic I’m discussing. We have three guys who have options, and we never discuss the decision to pick up an option until the deadline date.”

Which makes corporate sense: Why say anything until you’re required to say it? But there seems no compelling reason not to keep McCann for one year more, and no, to answer the next question, saving $12 million isn’t reason enough.

There are times when it might have been. The Braves traded Javier Vazquez, who’d finished fourth in the National League Cy Young balloting, in December 2009 because they weren’t crazy about paying another $11.5 million. This offseason is different. Chipper Jones retired, taking his $14 million salary with him. Derek Lowe’s partially offloaded contract is expiring, so that’s another $10 million. Jair Jurrjens, whose career fizzle is the strangest this franchise has seen since Nick Esasky got vertigo, is surely gone, and that’s $5.5 million. Michael Bourn, who made $6.8 million in 2012, is expected to demand nearly three times that in free agency, and it’s unlikely the Braves will meet his price.

Besides, the Braves had always planned to keep McCann through 2013, so it’s not as if this $12 million catches them by surprise. In sum, this is the first time since Liberty Media bought the club that money is less an object.

That’s the financial side. As for the physical: Catchers tend to age fast, and McCann hasn’t been nearly as good lately. (He was benched for the Braves’ one and only postseason game, a move once unthinkable.) Some of his decline — according to Baseball-Reference.com, McCann’s wins-over-replacement number this past season was a tepid 0.6; Dan Uggla’s was 2.7 — can be traced to injury. But how much?

That’s surely what the Braves will spend 2013 trying to determine. There will be no option attached to McCann next fall. Either he’s re-signed to a new contract or he’s a free agent. For a team that has reason to question the wisdom of re-upping the 30-year-old Uggla for five years at $62 million, the matter of what to do with a catcher who’s approaching 30 will be even more problematic.

What should the Braves do with Brian McCann?

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On the one hand, McCann has been a great servantreally good player, really good teammate, really good guy. On the other, he’ll be a catcher approaching 30, and with the younger Freddie Freeman at first base there’s no other positional landing spot. McCann’s best bet, at least monetarily, might be to look to the American League, where he could double as a designated hitter.

By autumn 2013, the Braves also will have a better feel for Christian Bethancourt, who’s 21 and ranked by MLB.com as the organization’s No. 2 prospect. Bethancourt isn’t ready — he hit .243 with an on-base percentage of .275 in Class AA and broke his left hand to boot — but he’s considered such a good defender that he stands to get a big-league look soon.

Ultimately the Braves will face the decision: To stick with the older and more expensive McCann, or to tap the younger and cheaper Bethancourt as the new No. 1? If McCann doesn’t return to form in 2012, the answer will be obvious. If he does, nothing will be obvious.

One year after losing Chipper, a B-Mac exit would be tough to take. That said, the quickest way to clog a payroll is to keep players who don’t figure to be half as good by the time their contracts lapse. Given that McCann isn’t yet 29, the Braves have every reason to bet $12 million that he’ll be better next year. The tougher call will be when they have to ask (and they will soon): How good will Brian McCann be at 34?

By Mark Bradley

286 comments Add your comment

TheOnlyBravesFan

October 17th, 2012
3:11 pm

Keep him this year, see what happens.

Kudos

Mark Bradley

October 17th, 2012
3:12 pm

Kudos to you, TOBF

tooltime234

October 17th, 2012
3:13 pm

Pick up the option for one year. Not much down side to it. The free agent pool is not going to be that strong so a lot of people will get overpaid and I don’t think the braves will be after a big name in free agency. Use that money on McCann this year and then see where we stand in one more season.

StevoDeg

October 17th, 2012
3:17 pm

Wow, I hope we keep McCann. Those offensive numbers show that Bethancourt isn’t ready to handle MLB pitching (or minors level pitching) but that was the knock on Simmons too, if I recall.
Mr. Bradley, what are the chances of exploring the option of Evan Gattis? I know I’ve heard wonders about his offense, but is his defense decent enough to give him a look?

Heisenberg

October 17th, 2012
3:21 pm

That said, the quickest way to clog a payroll is to keep players who don’t figure to be half as good by the time their contracts lapse

See Yankees, NY. That said, pick him up for 2013.

Almost the Weekend

October 17th, 2012
3:21 pm

Exercise the option. His clubhouse value now that Chipper is gone is worth it. And kudos to you, Mr. B.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 17th, 2012
3:26 pm

Can’t replace even his weak production by his terms for the money so you have to pick up the option.

BTW, those screaming loyalty, face of the franchise, etc…Doubtful any check cashed by Brian bounced.

Big Crimson 75

October 17th, 2012
3:26 pm

19 Mil for Michael Bourne!!!!!!
Forget being a player, I shoulda been an Agent.

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
3:27 pm

Drop him! Take your nearly 50 million in freed up cash and go get free agents Josh Hamilton (LF) and BJ Upton (CF) and move Prado to 3B. Or get free agents BJ Upton (CF) and David Wright (3B) and leave Prado in left.

Or just keep a 30 year old aging and injury prone catcher and be the first team out of the playoffs again next year. What the hell, we’ve only been the first losers in the playoffs for 20 years now. Why break a great tradition like that?

Biff Pocoroba

October 17th, 2012
3:28 pm

Good, tough catchers are not easy to replace.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 17th, 2012
3:29 pm

OR…

Go cheap and cut ticket prices.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 17th, 2012
3:31 pm

BJ Upton…The New “Junior” cry.

gtt

October 17th, 2012
3:32 pm

Yes, get him healthy and keep him.

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
3:33 pm

Oh and Ross, a great defensive catcher, hit .256 this year and would’ve hit around 20 hr’s and 60 rbi’s if you project his number to 450-500 AB’s (about average for starting catchers). We could let him be the starter next year and groom Bethancourt for the 2014 season.

archie

October 17th, 2012
3:33 pm

Face it, the Braves again are screwed for next year. Even with that terrific pitching, they’re solid at only 4 positions: Freeman, Simmons, Heyward and wherever Prado plays. Centerfield is a mystery (in case no one noticed, Bourn’s teams somehow avoid the playoffs) Uggla is a disaster, and catcher is a huge question mark.

But since the Braves front office is staffed by nice guys, who don’t mind a quiet post-season, they’ll continue to coddle Uggla (”oh look, he hit .239 last week, he’s back!”) and McCann, who has become a no-tool player before the age of 30.

With so many holes in the lineup, the Braves have no business playing in October. And they’ll be in their La-Z-Boys next fall too.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 17th, 2012
3:35 pm

Ross will be the first to say that a week of Ross is all he’s got. Pro part timer.

"Chef" Tim Dix

October 17th, 2012
3:38 pm

Weak outfield free agent year. Offer Bourne 50M for 4, option for 5, max.

Matt Amatician

October 17th, 2012
3:42 pm

“we’ve only been the first losers in the playoffs for 20 years now”

2012-1995=17

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
3:52 pm

NO NO NO. Bourne is fine defensively, but anyone who’s read Moneyball knows that SB’s are overratted. Plus he is a terrible contact hitter; 155 K’s! Are you kidding? You’re a leadoff hitter with great speed and no power. In the words of Lou Brown “Well, you can run like Hays, but you hit like s#$%. With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and be legging them out.”

RNB

October 17th, 2012
3:55 pm

Let him go and free up salary to sign a big hitter to plug in left or center. Another priority would be to sign a good starting pitcher.

collegeballfan

October 17th, 2012
4:07 pm

I completely agree Bradley.

yabbo dabba doo

October 17th, 2012
4:10 pm

kick him to the curb!

Bobby Coccyx

October 17th, 2012
4:18 pm

Geez, it wasn’t that long ago that McCann was projected to sign for more money than Y. Molina somewhere… Now he’s being tossed into the second-hand bin.

George Stein

October 17th, 2012
4:21 pm

Mark Bradley just cited a player’s WAR. This is progress.

Jamaaliver

October 17th, 2012
4:33 pm

Let him walk and use that money to totally remake the roster. Hell, a lowr payroll might make the Braves easier to sell. And we can get a real owner!

ChipperisGod

October 17th, 2012
4:40 pm

WAR is irrelevant to me. It seems completely made up, to me it depends on which replacement you have back there that would determine this statistic, not any old replacement. There are varying levels of skill set in terms of the various replacements that could take the place of the player in question that doesn’t seem to be factored into WAR. And who cares about what a minor leaguer would perform over a major leaguer anyway? I dunno, seems silly.

Anyway, Mac didn’t have a good year, but we saw in July of this year, when he’s healthy, the guy is an absolute beast.

I’d pick up the option. There is no one in FA, Bethancourt still needs another year and Ross is not an everyday catcher despite his flair for the dramatic.

After this year, then you decide. If he puts up the usual Mac numbers (280, 25, 80) then yeah, I’d give him maybe three or four year contract next offseason. Still, catchers do not age well. It’s a very tough decision, but I think the decision is obvious right now. Pick up the option and see what happens, the alternative is worse than an injured McCann to me.

Worst case scenario, you eat 12 million, Mac has a subpar year and Bethancourt is ready by the 2014 season, and we say goodbye to the best catcher we’ve had since Javy.

Mister Frisky

October 17th, 2012
4:41 pm

If you pick up option for 13 mil,thats 26 mil for the Braves two worst hitters and most consistent rally killers.Thats about 27 % of payroll on two diminishing hitters.NO THANKS!

David Puddy

October 17th, 2012
4:42 pm

“His clubhouse value now that Chipper is gone is worth it.”

12m for a good guy in the clubhouse. Oh, gosh. Please.

David Puddy

October 17th, 2012
4:46 pm

“Geez, it wasn’t that long ago that McCann was projected to sign for more money than Y. Molina somewhere… Now he’s being tossed into the second-hand bin”

Some of the offense he provides–beyond a more defensive catcher–is given up by his weak defensive play. Only nitwits like Matt Turnoff make these declarations ignoring the value of sterling defensive play and poor defensive play,as in McCann’s case.

Rowsdower

October 17th, 2012
4:50 pm

For those of you proposing that Mac be let go, who are you planning to have catch? Ross? He’s 35 and wouldn’t make until May if he had to start every game. Bethancourt? He’s not ready. A free agent? Are there any worth a damn?

Bring Mac back. While he’s healing Bethancourt can get a cup of coffee and we’ll have a better idea where his progression is. Mac comes back healthy and his old self you re-sign him for 3 years. If he doesn’t let him walk next year.

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
4:53 pm

.280, 25, 80. for an absolutely horrible defensive catcher that sits down every 3rd or 4th game? There are several free agents who can put up those numbers AND can field their position. Totally agree with Frisky. Ugg and Mc are the most overpaid hitters on the team. Waste of 26 million dollars.

Ask yourself this: If the braves (who insisted on this option when the contract was written) are going to excercise that option after a terrible, injury riddled season by a 30 year old catcher who can’t field his position, WHY PUT THE OPTION IN THE CONTRACT TO BEGIN WITH????? This is precisely WHY you put these options in there.

ATLcracker

October 17th, 2012
4:54 pm

Guys, We don’t HAVE David Ross. He is a free agent. We don’t have any kind of option with him. He can sign with any team in MLB. With the problems Washington and some other teams had at catcher last year don’t you think at least one of them will be willing to “overpay” for the best backup catcher in Baseball? Not signing him to an extension when we had the chance will turn out to be another blunder by Frank Wren.

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
4:55 pm

aren’t (not are)

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
4:59 pm

That’s true ATL, but if Bathencourt is as good of a fielder as we here, then we just bring him up if we can’t lure Ross to stay.

The point is, a hitting catcher is a luxery, but it’s not worth it if he’s always on the DL and can’t field his position. You don’t have to have a slugger behind the plate. Personally, I think we should have traded him when he was a hot commodity a couple of years ago. We don’t need a hitting catcher, we need a hitting thirdbaseman, and some hitting outfielders.

Rowsdower

October 17th, 2012
5:00 pm

@Hanan – “.280, 25, 80. for an absolutely horrible defensive catcher that sits down every 3rd or 4th game”

Uh, you’re insane if you think catchers with those slashes grow on trees. Also, ALL catchers sit once every 5th day. No catcher can play 162 games. It’s impossible, so lower your bar and remember that guys that can hit for those numbers AND play great defense are limited to Chooch and Yadi. That’s it. Oh, and Yadi missed 24 games…

JoeBravesFan

October 17th, 2012
5:11 pm

Pick up the option and see how he does after this surgery. If he does well, use him as trade bait at the deadline and get something REALLY good in return. They shouldn’t do what they did with JJ and hold on to him. If they had traded JJ before the trade deadline last year, we could have gotten a great return…but then he got injured again and we aren’t going to get ANYTHING for him.

Mister Frisky

October 17th, 2012
5:12 pm

Get another catcher like a Rod Barajas type to go along with Ross.Use McCann money for the addition of proven clutch hitters.

JoeBravesFan

October 17th, 2012
5:14 pm

Of course, if they DO trade B-Mac, they should obviously look to do so outside the NL East, because with our luck, he’d terrorize us everytime we played against his team.

Hanan

October 17th, 2012
5:17 pm

I understand that. But my point is that when you invest that much money in a guy who plays part time, you should be able to expect that he can field his position. If not, he better hit like Piazza, otherwise it’s not a worthwhile investment. His recent WAR numbers bear out that point.

My point is that if you don’t either have a 5 tool guy or ridiculous hitter like Piazza, then just go get any old good fielding catcher, pay him a million or less and invest the other 11 million in a good hitter who will play 150-160 games and can field.

taylor

October 17th, 2012
5:21 pm

“280, 25, 80. for an absolutely horrible defensive catcher that sits down every 3rd or 4th game?”

You can probably count on 1 hand the number of catchers you hit those stats in the Majors. That said, every catcher sits every 4 games or so. That is just how grueling the position is.

taylor

October 17th, 2012
5:23 pm

*who hit those stats

Larry30

October 17th, 2012
5:23 pm

This situation, among others, points to the inadequacy of Frank Wren. Any forward thinking GM would have envisioned this predicament, injury or not. McCann should have traded after the 2010 season when his trade value was sky high much like the rangers traded with us for texeira. His bat is all that keeps him in the game the past three seasons he has not even been an average catcher. They will sign him, throw away another $12 mil. He will sign with an AL team next year and we will get nothing for him.

Whacked Out Fan

October 17th, 2012
5:26 pm

Any thought of converting BMAC into a third baseman? Just a wild thought.

Many years ago the Big Red Machine converted Johnny Bench from catcher to third base. It extended his career.
Also, Joe Torre was a catcher with the Braves. He was converted to third base by St. Louis after being traded for Orlando Cepeda in 1969.
He went on to win a batting title, RBI crown and MVP.

Another former catcher that was converted was Dale Murphy — his move was to Center Field and that turned out pretty good too…

With Chipper gone and the Braves ever so famous for no longer signing big name/mone free agents — BMAC at third isn’t a bad idea….

How About it Frank”n”Wren….Freddie GGGGGG?

McCann to third!!!!

Joey

October 17th, 2012
5:29 pm

I can’t believe those votes. $12M for a catcher with bad eyesight, who never throws out a base stealer, who lets passed balls go by by the dozen, who now has a bad shoulder?

Why? Cause he’s nice? He’s a good guy? Mac is a good guy, but that is no reason to spend that much money on him.

Think!!!

Think what that $12M can get the Braves – two healthy baseball players. We have catchers in the system that can put up his numbers from ‘12.

Thank him for his service, and let him GO!

Don

October 17th, 2012
5:31 pm

Absolutely not. The Braves can use $10 + mill better than McCann. Who knows when he will actually be able to play and what condition he will be in when he does. Albeit injured, he has been a non factor the last 2 Septembers. He seems to be on his way down.

Third Eye Blind?

October 17th, 2012
5:31 pm

I like the idea of making Brian a third baseman! Might plug the hole for several years. Great thought Whacked

Rowsdower

October 17th, 2012
5:32 pm

@Hanan – I agree his WAR was horrible this year, but he was also playing with one arm. Let’s see what happens after the surgery. There is plenty of money to take care of all the arb eligible guys and still get a premium CF and LF/3B. The money for Mac is already earmarked and there really isn’t much of a market to replace his bat when he’s healthy. If he comes back and is a shell of his former self like this past season, you let him walk.

@Taylor – Thank you for reinforcing my point!

DONNAN OF A NEW ERA

October 17th, 2012
5:35 pm

Whatever Bradley says, the Braves should do the total opposite of.

Dumb and Numb

October 17th, 2012
5:38 pm

How is all of these guys have such a strong opinion to let Mac go and give absolutely no solutions on who to sign or trade for?

Does anyone remember when Ron Gant broke his leg in the ATV accident? He had to have metal rod inserted for it heal.

What did the Braves do? They released him from his contract and would not take the risk of paying an injured player that they did not know how long it would take for him to heal and play, if ever play; baseball again…..

Turned out that was one of the Braves alltime stupidest moves — Gant came back and played several productive years with the Cardinals and A’s.
Where would Braves history have been had John S. not released Gant and not have traded Dave Justice? I would BET the HOUSE that it would have included a couple of more World Series titles vs just making the WS….

Ted M

October 17th, 2012
5:44 pm

I love McCann and he has been a great Brave in many ways but you have to let him go. Sentiment should not be a factor. Sign Ross and go w/a Kid if it doesn’t work make Ross the starter and trade for an inexpensive back up.

Look for great outfielders, other then Bourn. Maybe even Hamilton.