Injuries to an aging core and a mandate to slash payroll made 2013 a disappointing year for the championship-or-bust New York Yankees. They rostered a team-record 56 players and finished with an 85-77 record, which was a far better record than the active roster deserved. They missed the playoffs for just the second time since 1995. Rumblings from the team’s management suggest they intend to solve this problem the good ol’ fashioned Yankee Way: by throwing piles of money at top free agents.
Enter Brian McCann. The Yankees made the first big splash of the hot stove season by signing the best catcher on the market to a 5 year/$85 million contract with an option that could take it up to 6 years/$100 million. Per Fangraphs, McCann has accumulated the 3rd-most WAR [Wins Above Replacement] among catchers since 2008 and should be a perfect fit in New York for several reasons.
First, the Yankees got virtually nothing out of the catcher position after letting Russell Martin leave last winter. The combination of Francisco Cervelli, Chris Stewart, J. R. Murphy, and Austin Romine combined to produce less than one win [4th-worst among AL teams], most of which was produced by an unsustainable Cervelli hot streak that was cut short by a PED suspension. McCann was good for 2.7 WAR last year despite missing the beginning of the season while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He also rates as an above average pitch framer, which adds value not accounted for in his WAR calculation.
Second, Yankee Stadium is tailor-made for a left-handed pull hitter like McCann. As illustrated below, the [in]famous short right field porch should add 5-10 home runs to the 20 per season he hit in Atlanta. You don’t need fancy metrics to know that turning singles, doubles and flyouts into home runs makes a player more valuable [Curtis Granderson says hello].
Photos from Jonah Keri/Grantland.com
McCann will be 30 next season, and it’s fair to ask whether or not he can play catcher for all 5 years he is under contract. Fortunately, there seems to be an elegant solution to this problem assuming he can keep producing at the plate into his mid 30s. Current first baseman Mark Teixeira is only under contract for three more seasons; and the Yankees have highly-rated catching prospect Gary Sanchez waiting in the wings after being promoted to AA last season. If everything goes to plan, McCann can slide to first base for his age-33 season to make room for Sanchez.
This is likely just the beginning of the Yankees’ winter shopping spree. They are rumored to be leading suitors for other top free agents such as Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, and Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka. While McCann alone won’t be enough to vault them into the playoffs in 2014, signing him was probably the best start the team could reasonably hope for.