October 30, 2012 at 7:00 am by David Lee under Atlanta Braves
The topic? Brian McCann’s future in Atlanta, starting with a $12 million option that the Braves must make a decision on soon. To the roundtable we go.
There are a few options with Brian McCann going forward, pick up the option, decline it, or extend him. The latter point is one that I have seldom seen brought up, but it’s what I would try and do if I were Wren and company. Given that McCann will be in for his biggest pay day yet, he may try to avoid an extension, but given his past season and a half of play combined with the injuries he is becoming accustomed to dealing with, he may opt to take some guaranteed money to ensure paychecks over the next few years.
What I would go after is a three year, $30 million deal that would cover this year and remove the option year. It would save $2 million this year, and while it is risky in that McCann could struggle and not live up to the contract, it also has the potential to be cost saving if McCann can revert back to his old form.
If it comes down to picking up the option or not doing so, I would most certainly pick it up. The Braves should have some money to spend and filling in the catcher position will be costly regardless. Picking up the option, while costly, seems like the correct call in my opinion.
2012 notwithstanding, Brian McCann has been an incredibly potent cog behind the plate and in the
middle of Atlanta’s lineup for the better part of eight seasons. When healthy, McCann has shown
a tantalizing combination of power, on-base ability, and fine defense behind the dish, notably in
the area of framing pitches. With all of this being said, McCann suffered through an injury-riddled
2012 and saw his numbers drop accordingly. He underwent surgery for a torn labrum earlier this
month and his status for the beginning of 2013 remains cloudy. We all knew 2012 was going to be
an interesting offseason with respect to McCann’s future contract situation with the team, just not
in the current context.
There are four possible scenarios regarding McCann’s 2013 club option. The least likely of these,
at least as I see it, would be for the Braves to decline the club option. Frank Wren and his staff are
privy to more information regarding the results of his surgery and the details surrounding his
recovery than the general public, so there is at least a non-zero chance that this is genuinely being
discussed internally. Without an heir apparent waiting in the wings*, however, declining the club
option without significant evidence suggesting that he will not return to form would be somewhat
imprudent**. Sticking with unlikely scenarios, the Braves could also choose to exercise the club
option and trade him thereafter to a team in the market for a catcher/DH. This situation depends
entirely on the player(s) received in return for McCann, but with his stock at an all-time low when
taking into account last year’s performance along with the injury/recovery concerns, the Braves
could very well be selling low on McCann. This also puts the Braves in a similar situation regarding
next season’s catcher, assuming that the return does not include a major league ready backstop.
With the previous two scenarios in mind, the Braves should choose to exercise the club option for
2013. Signing a competent backup—e.g. David Ross—will be key in this situation, as McCann will
likely miss time at the beginning of next season recovering from shoulder surgery. If the Braves
plan on keeping McCann past 2013, they are forced to consider that he may regain form next season
and command much more money on the open market next offseason. In light of this, the Braves
could offer McCann a short-term extension, possibly in the range of three years. Many behind-the-
scenes conditions would have to be met for this to be considered—namely confidence that McCann
will fully recover from his surgery and that he can remain operative behind the plate into his
early thirties—but the potential for surplus value is inherent. For McCann, the added certainty of
guaranteed money for a few years after a subpar season—not to mention the possibility of hitting
the open market in his early thirties—would undoubtedly entice, although he could opt to turn
down an offer for an extension and choose to test the free agent waters next offseason, a move that
could pay dividends or be very costly for McCann if he does not return to form.
All things being equal, I believe the Braves will exercise Brian McCann’s 2013 option with the hope
that Christian Bethancourt makes significant strides offensively within the next calendar year.
*I’m looking at you, Christian Bethancourt.
**I love the guy, but I do not consider David Ross to be an adequate full-time replacement for Brian
McCann going forward.
The first issue is whether or not the Braves exercise McCann’s option. The Braves hold a $12MM club option for next year, and I think it’s a near guarantee that they pick up this option unless they are privy to some serious health issues that nobody else is.
There has been some speculation that the Braves might exercise their option and then trade McCann and go with a combination of Ross and Bethancourt. While McCann has no no-trade provisions that I’m aware of and doesn’t yet have 10 years of MLB service, I view any preseason trade as unlikely. Most importantly I don’t think the Braves believe Bethancourt is fully ready to handle MLB pitching yet, and I don’t think the Braves believe that David Ross is a day to day #1 catcher over an entire season. Furthermore, it would be a bad move from a PR perspective however important such a concern may or may not be.
So, I view it as a near certainty that Brian McCann will be the Braves #1 catcher when he returns from rehabbing his shoulder, likely in May. I could envisage a scenario where the Braves fall out of contention early, and McCann gets traded mid-season, but I view that as unlikely as I don’t realistically see the Braves fully falling out of contention before the trade deadline.
As far as going past that, I think it’s 100% a wait and see approach once McCann returns from his rehab. If McCann shows that he is healthy and that his poor results from last year were purely a function of his injured shoulder, the Braves would likely be willing to extend him for 3-4 more years (though prior to last year I think they would have been willing to go 5). If McCann returned at least mostly to form offensively, I think 3 years, $45MM is a likely starting point, perhaps going to 4 years, $55 MM.
However, if McCann does not return to form or continues to be plagued by injuries, I think the Braves will bite the PR bullet and simply part ways and hope that a David Ross/Christian Bethancourt combination would be competitive over a full season. In such a scenario it would be a sad, but necessary end to a very beloved Brave’s career here, as he would likely be better off as a part time DH / backup catcher in the AL.
To begin with, picking up the $12 million option for 2013 seems to be a no-brainer. You’re paying for the potential of 4-5 wins at a prime position when Brian McCann is healthy, and with the cost and scarce amount of talent at the position (especially at McCann’s level), it’s worth the risk of him returning from shoulder surgery at 100 percent.
As all three have pointed out above, extending McCann at 3-4 years is not a bad way to go. If McCann proves his bat speed and hands have not lost a step after the shoulder injury, an extension would be a wise move to lock up what his career numbers have shown to be one of the best catchers in the game. And you have to assume if he does return healthy that he will return to those career norms for at least a few more years.
The Cardinals did the Braves no good by locking up Yadier Molina at five years and $15 million per while Molina is a couple years older than McCann. But it’s the reality of a catcher’s market these days that the best are going to get $12-15 million per. McCann has proven he’s worth that amount when healthy.
So stick to a patient approach right now and see how McCann’s bat responds to extra time off. You have a safety net in David Ross (assuming he returns), and while Christian Bethancourt’s bat is in no way major-league ready, his defense is, and that tends to win out at the position. The Braves have the ability to wait on McCann, and that’s key right now.