McCann’s future hinges on designated hitter rule

sports@macon.comMay 22, 2013 

Brian McCann could be in his final five months in an Atlanta uniform. He has been so important to this team for so long, but the likelihood of him moving on after this season is definitely there.

McCann will be a free agent this winter. He’ll turn 30 in February, and it’s unlikely the Braves or any other NL team would sign a catcher to a long-term contract that would expire past a catcher’s peak seasons.

But there is something that could change all of that. What if the NL adopts the designated hitter? It’s possible, and many analysts even believe it is probable.

Let’s say the NL does vote to adopt the DH, perhaps starting in 2015. Then McCann could re-sign with the Braves, be the primary catcher again next year, and then take over as the designated hitter for Atlanta the following season.

Now the problem is McCann’s market this winter could make it difficult for the Braves to keep him. The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers could use McCann, and both teams would have more financial resources to offer McCann a big contract.

If the Braves offered something like what Yadier Molina got two springs ago from St. Louis (five years, $72 million), then McCann might stay since he is playing in his hometown.

How much better would McCann be at the plate if he only had to concentrate on hitting the baseball? Well, he has averaged 21.6 home runs per season in his first full seven seasons in the big leagues. That could possibly get closer to 30 per season if he did not have to worry about grabbing the catching gear.

As he has showed since getting back off the disabled list, there is no doubt McCann can hit the baseball when healthy. If he didn’t have to catch, chances are he’d stay healthier as he gets older. And with Freddie Freeman entrenched at first base, McCann is not moving there.

We all know by now that Evan Gattis is a legitimate candidate to replace McCann as next year’s starting catcher. Even though Gattis will turn 27 years old this August, he took a few years off between stints in college, so he’s younger in baseball terms.

Then the Braves have Christian Bethancourt in Double-A. He’s a top prospect with outstanding defensive skills. This year, in his return to Mississippi for a second season, Bethancourt has his average up to .320 -- 77 points higher than his mark there last year in 71 games.

The Braves could have Bethancourt spend next year in Triple-A, and, at the same time, give Gattis more of a test as McCann’s main backup to see if he could be ready to be the full-time starter once McCann moved to a full-time role as the designated hitter.

Count me as a fan of the current setup, where the NL still has its pitchers hit and the two leagues are a bit different. But they’ve already merged the umpires. We have an interleague game every day on the schedule. It just looks as if it’s inevitable that the NL will soon have the DH.

But there’s little doubt the Braves having a potential perfect candidate to be their first full-time DH would make it a bit easier to accept the change. McCann would be the perfect fit, but there’s just concern over whether the vote could happen in time for the Braves to make an offer to keep their hometown star.

McCann probably never wants to leave. He grew up 30 minutes from Turner Field. But the only thing that could save him from wearing another uniform would be a dramatic change in how the game is played in the NL.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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