There isn’t a numeric value that can be placed on leadership. That’s why some will say it’s overrated and that having leaders on a team doesn’t matter as much as just having players with talent.
Tell that to a coach and see what response you get. Whether it’s a middle school football team or a group of players making big money as professionals, leaders are always needed. There simply needs to be someone who can lead the way, to show teammates how a game should be played and what the expectations are for a group expected to win games.
Brian McCann is the leader of the Atlanta Braves. That was made clear this past week when he instructed Miami pitcher Jose Fernandez on what is expected on a baseball field.
Fernandez, an exceptional young pitcher, was showboating after hitting his first big league home run. He flipped the bat, and then he spit in the direction of Atlanta third baseman Chris Johnson as he rounded third. Fernandez was then met at home plate by a veteran who had something to say.
Brian Jordan, of the Braves’ postgame crew, made a great comparison. When Deion Sanders came up with the New York Yankees, he thought he was big-time. Sanders got into the batter’s box and started drawing circles with his bat. Carlton Fisk, the Chicago White Sox catcher, grabbed Sanders by the jersey and told him that was not the way the game is played.
This is not high school. It’s the big leagues. Act like you belong.
Now why did that matter for McCann to do that with Fernandez? Well, McCann’s teammates were watching him, particularly the younger teammates on the field like Freddie Freeman, Andrelton Simmons, Justin Upton and Jordan Schafer.
Fernandez later apologized and was reportedly in tears as he approached McCann in the tunnel after the game to tell McCann he was sorry for his immature behavior.
McCann’s actions reiterated to many his value for the Braves. Chipper Jones is gone now, and this is a young team. But at 29 years old, and with seven All-Star appearances under his belt, McCann is the leader of this team. He sets the tone, with his talent and his knowledge of what is expected to wear a big league uniform.
The Braves are getting ready to be in a conundrum. McCann is a free agent this winter. There are two solid options as potential replacements: Evan Gattis, who is having a great rookie season but is 27 years old, and Christian Bethancourt, a 22-year-old catching prospect from Panama.
At 29, McCann is at an odd age. He’s almost 30, and 30-year-old catchers in the NL are not always the type of players teams want to invest in long-term. If the Braves give McCann a five-year contract, how will his knees be in the final two years of his deal, when he’s 33 and 34 years old?
An AL team can offer McCann a five-year deal, and if his catching skills deteriorate, he can then be a designated hitter. The Braves and other NL teams don’t have that same option. He could play another position, but McCann is probably limited to playing behind the plate.
You can bet AL teams will line up for McCann, who has had another great offensive season despite missing the first month as he returned from shoulder surgery. The Texas Rangers, Yankees and Boston Red Sox could all offer McCann a deal he can’t refuse.
The Braves, meanwhile, might be hesitant. They have Gattis and Bethancourt ready if McCann leaves. They have payroll restrictions. They might not want to get into a bidding war.
But they should do everything possible to bring back McCann. Sure, Gattis and Bethancourt are good options, but McCann is a star. When you go to Turner Field, you see tons of fans wearing McCann jerseys. He’s a hometown kid who loves that uniform, and that should mean something.
The Braves will have enough money to offer McCann a big deal. They gave one to Dan Uggla and one to B.J. Upton, so certainly a player with real talent like McCann should get a fair contract. McCann is making $12 million this season, and with new national TV money kicking in next year, the Braves will have more than enough to increase that amount to $15 million per season in a new deal.
Will it be a risk? Absolutely. But McCann is a hitter, and as long as he’s healthy, he’s going to be able to hit. And he also showed this past week why his presence on this team is essential if the Braves are going to be successful moving forward.
McCann is the Braves’ leader, and that’s something that’s definitely worth a long-term investment.
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 e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.