LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- When Chipper Jones announced hed retire at the end of the season, the inevitable question was asked. Who would Jones like to see take over as the Braves leader?
Id like to say its Brian McCann, Jones said. Hes going to solely be the face of this franchise starting next year. Hes a great kid. Hes a great player. Hes the kind of guy youd want to build a ballclub around.
Jones answer was not a surprise. McCann is the perfect candidate to be the next icon in an Atlanta uniform, and McCann was proud to be singled out by Jones.
It meant a lot, for someone like him to come out and say that he views me as a guy that can carry a ballclub and can be a leader and all the things that come along with being successful, McCann said. Thats a pretty high honor coming from a future Hall of Famer and a guy who will go down as one of the best switch-hitters that will ever play the game.
McCann is 28 years old now. Hes no longer the baby-faced kid from Atlanta who wowed fans when he arrived seven seasons ago. McCann is a six-time All-Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner. Hes the best catcher in the NL.
But despite his talent and awards, McCann feels he can still be better.
I still feel like Im a 30-home run guy and a .300 hitter, he said. I strive to do that. Ive yet to do that in the big leagues, so theres always room for improvement.
The Braves will soon be in a quandary with McCann. He has this year left on his contract, with an option for next season. But with St. Louis giving Yadier Molina a five-year, $75 million dollar deal last month, McCanns next contract will now have a starting point.
McCann is better than Molina, so McCann will command more than $15 million per season. Atlanta messed up by not extending McCann last year, which would have likely saved the team money now that Molinas deal has set the bar.
The Braves have Christian Bethancourt waiting in the wings. Hes an excellent prospect and is headed to Double-A Mississippi. Scouts believe Bethancourt is the best defensive catcher in baseball and could be an All-Star.
But McCann is an All-Star now. Thats who he is, and All-Stars get paid big money. This franchise would be making a huge mistake by letting McCann leave. But the economics of a franchise run by a corporate entity make the reality a bit scary regarding McCanns future.
Thats why the Braves shouldve taken care of his future a long time ago.
For now, McCann concentrates on his team. With all the skepticism about the Braves, McCann thinks Atlanta has a legitimate chance, even with the NL East getting stronger.
Its going to be tough, McCann said. Every team has gotten better. Whoever gets hot at the right time is going to win this division. For me, this is the best division in baseball. If you win this division, its going to be special. I feel very confident going into the year with the team we have, that were going to do some special things.
McCann has done special things for a few years now. Lets hope Jones is right and this is not the last year McCann can lead this Atlanta team.
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