So what are the Braves going to do with Brian McCann? The Braves hold an option on his contract for 2013, and even with McCann’s disappointing season, it’s unlikely the Braves would just let him walk away.
When spring training started, and the St. Louis Cardinals had just signed Yadier Molina to a five-year, $72 million dollar contract, it was believed McCann would get an even bigger deal. But a batting average near .230 for McCann is making this a difficult decision.
The problem is McCann’s age. He’ll turn 29 next February. So if the Braves gave him, let’s say, a five-year contract extension, McCann would be under control through his 34th birthday. Would McCann, who is already showing signs of breaking down late in seasons in his late-20s, be worth that type of contract when he’s getting into his mid-30s?
The Braves made a mistake by not extending McCann before the 2011 season. They could have torn up his last three years of his deal and locked him up through 2014 or so. Then he would have been in his early-30s when the Braves could have let him walk away to an American League team so he could split time behind the plate and as a designated hitter the rest of his career.
With Christian Bethancourt being a top catching prospect in the minor league system, the Braves do have an alternative. But Bethancourt, who is out for the rest of the season with an injury, still needs another full season. So if the Braves decided to trade McCann, they’d need a veteran to come in for one season until Bethancourt is ready.
Atlanta could just pick up McCann’s option, and then let him play his final season in Atlanta before letting him walk away after next season – if they are not interested in signing him to a long-term extension. But if they wanted to re-sign McCann, how much are they willing to invest in a catcher that is getting older, and already showing his age?
Let’s see which teams might be interested in McCann if the Braves did want to trade him this winter.
New York Yankees – The Yankees have Russell Martin, who is having a horrible season at the plate. He’s a free agent this winter, and it’s doubtful New York will want him back, especially considering he’s making $7.5 million this season. Would the Yankees give up young catching prospect Gary Sanchez for McCann? Sanchez turns 20 this December. He is now in High-A and will spend most of next season in Double-A. He could be two years away. But in Sanchez and Bethancourt, the Braves would have two elite catching prospects that could replace McCann. The Braves have had a long-standing interest in infielder Eduardo Nunez, but the emergence of Andrelton Simmons may negate that now. The Yankees probably have a host of prospects that could interest Atlanta, not to mention a few major league relievers that could be expendable.
Chicago White Sox – A.J. Pierzynski is having a really good season for the White Sox, but he’ll turn 36 this December. He’s a free agent after this season, and Chicago might not want to commit to even a two-year contract considering his age. Plus, some team could tempt Pierzynski to leave Chicago, where he’s been the starting catcher for eight seasons. If so, the White Sox could go for a younger catcher, like McCann. GM Kenny Williams would be the type of executive that would think he was smarter than everyone else if he went after McCann. The Braves would certainly be interested in outfielder Trayce Thompson, who is one of the White Sox top prospects currently in Double-A Birmingham. He strikes out a lot, but Thompson has great potential.
Texas Rangers – Mike Napoli is a free agent after this season. The Rangers just got Geovanny Soto from the Cubs in July, so he could be an option for them. But the Rangers go big and are always tempted by good players who are available. Texas actually had interest in McCann when he was drafted by the Braves in 2002, but it’s unclear of whether that is still in place. Texas has some elite prospects, and you probably won’t see them give up Jurickson Profar for McCann, but I wonder if Atlanta would try to get Elvis Andrus back to play third base. Just a thought. Andrus is under contract for two more years. Texas also has a strong farm system, so they would have enough to put on the table in an offer.
Detroit Tigers – The relationship between Frank Wren, Atlanta’s general manager, and Dave Dombrowski, Detroit’s GM, makes this a possibility. Wren used to work for Dombrowski, so they have a lot of conversations. The Tigers have young Alex Avila, but McCann would be an upgrade. Detroit has a very good third base prospect that Atlanta would probably ask about. Not sure if the Tigers would listen on Nick Castellanos, but it would be worth trying.
Boston Red Sox – Wouldn’t it be ironic if the Red Sox preferred McCann over Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was traded by Atlanta after McCann signed his long-term deal? The Red Sox are obviously starting over, so they will look for new pieces. Salty has done well this season, and Boston has Ryan Lavarnway, a favorite of Bobby Valentine. The Red Sox are loaded with prospects, so this is a team the Braves would have to talk with about a major trade. Matt Barnes, Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and Gavin Cecchini might be names the Braves ask about in a discussion regarding McCann.
Kansas City Royals – When McCann was drafted, Dayton Moore was an executive in Atlanta’s front office. Now he’s the Royals’ GM, and it would be worth the phone call for Wren to see if Moore would want McCann. Kansas City has young Salvador Perez, who is showing signs of being a solid regular. But there are a lot of people in the Kansas City organization that love McCann. They must improve their pitching, so this wouldn’t seem to be a priority. It’s doubtful, but there still could be interest.
Los Angeles Dodgers – Well, they’re going after everyone else. Stan Kasten is running the Dodgers, and he was Atlanta’s president when McCann was drafted. They are accumulating All-Stars in LA, so McCann would fit right in. The Dodgers still have a lot of talent in their farm system, so anything is possible. McCann would be an upgrade over A.J. Ellis.
A decision has to be made this winter on McCann. It will be one of the more interesting calls for the organization. McCann is a local kid who is a tremendous representative for the team. But the circumstances, including this being an organization that does not have an unlimited payroll, could make this a tough, tough decision on one of the most popular players we’ve seen in some time.
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