In 2013, the catching corps for the New York Yankees was abysmal. A franchise that has seen the likes of Berra, Howard, and Posada watched in horror as Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and others posted a triple-slash of .213/.287/.298, 5th-worst in the American League. And the free-agent market this year, while short on almost everything else, does not lack catchers. There are several good options that teams can turn to, from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Dioner Navarro, both of whom can switch hit, to AJ Pierzynski, a guy whom you’d want to hit. But by far the best option on the market was long time Atlanta Braves catcher, seven-time all-star Brian McCann. Over the course of his career, the 29-year old McCann has hit .273/.350/.473, and approached those averages this year with a .256/.336/.461 line.
Now, in any other year, McCann and the Yankees would seem a perfect fit — McCann is the best player at a position where the Yankees have a need, and the Yankees are the Yankees, willing to spend whatever they need to put the best product on the field. Except, over the past two years, the Yankees have been preaching austerity. Owners Hal and Hank Steinbrenner have made it a stated priority to get under the $189 million luxury threshold, freeing the Bombers from paying a luxury tax, which became far more punitive under the new CBA. In this brave new world where the Yankees are strapped for cash, would they still be able to make the moves that made them the most hated, feared team in the majors?
Tonight, we got an answer: yes. The Yankees signed McCann to the largest-ever contract for a free-agent catcher — 5 years and $85 million, with an option for 2019 that could push the value of the deal over $100 million. The Yankees, it seems, are still the Yankees.
Is this a good deal? For a small-market team, where McCann would consume the entire payroll and render them incapable of making any other moves, of course not. But for the Yankees, it’s a perfect fit. McCann immediately makes the Yankees one of the strongest teams in the league behind the plate. Defensively, McCann is about league average; he threw out 28% of runners last year, below league average, but has been described as a good pitch-caller and game-manager. Offensively, McCann’s bat is perfectly suited to Yankee Stadium. The left-handed swinger has become a pull hitter, as his spray charts demonstrate). 18 of his 20 home runs this year were hit to right field, and Yankee Stadium’s famed short porch will likely allow him to pull a couple more fly balls into the seats.
Furthermore, moving to the AL will allow McCann to DH, which could save his career. In the early years of the contract, McCann can get days off from catching while keeping his bat in the lineup. And if he needs to switch to a more full-time DH role towards the end of the contract, his bat, while obviously more valuable at catcher, is still good enough to make him a serviceable designated hitter.
When the Yankees last missed the playoffs in 2008, they then went on a spending spree of historic proportions, signing CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, and Mark Teixeira to deals that totaled over $400 million. And while all three of those contracts look foolish today, the Yankees possess the unique ability (at least, it was unique, until the Dodgers found oil in their backyard) to spend their way out of trouble they’ve created through their spending. Will they open their billfolds again this offseason? We’ll see. But as we’ve seen tonight, the Yankees are still the Yankees. And with Robinson Cano still out on the market (and asking for $300 million), I wouldn’t be even the least bit surprised if the Yankees went for broke again this year.