What in the world is it going to take to re-sign Brian McCann?
The question seemed a bit daunting at the time, but the outcome quite certain to most in Braves Country — Atlanta would find a way to resign him. At that point, McCann was perceived to be the better offensive player despite a rough finish due to injury in 2011. Molina had always been the better defensive player. But we all know teams are willing to pay for past performance on offense. Just look at the Anaheim Angels.
But the perception that McCann is the superior offensive player to Molina has been erased 16 months later.
Molina’s defense is still stellar. He is widely regarded as the best defender in all of baseball and is lauded by St. Louis pitchers for the way he handles their staff. The art of base running and stealing bases is making a comeback in today’s game, and Molina is throwing runners out at a 47 percent clip, all but eliminating opposing teams’ running games. The 16 stolen base attempts against him this season are the fewest among starting catchers in baseball.
And while his defense has been and continues to be spectacular — you might not realize it — but his offensive numbers have been trending upwards for years. In fact, Molina is a true MVP candidate this season.
By comparison, McCann, who becomes a free agent at season’s end, has battled injuries and consequently struggled at the plate since the middle of 2011. He’s closer to his old self this year (.262 avg., 10 HR, 27 RBI in 145 at bats), which has eased concerns about his difficult 2012 campaign. Injuries clearly affected his performance.
But the question of March 2012 remains today, and with a twist — how much is McCann worth and are the Braves willing to pay it to keep him?
McCann will be 30 years old when pitchers and catchers report to spring training next year. Atlanta has veteran Gerald Laird signed for 2014. And modern day Paul Bunyan, Mr. Evan Gattis, will be 27 years old next spring and isn’t eligible for free agency until 2019.
Christian Bethancourt has long been believed to be McCann’s eventual successor behind the plate, but he continues to struggle offensively in the minors. His days as a top prospect are quickly fading.
It’s hard to believe McCann would get less than four years in any deal on the open market. Would the Braves do that? Would you if you were general manager Frank Wren? Would you put pen to paper on a four-year deal at, say, $13-$15 million annually? And would that even be enough to keep him in Atlanta? The New York Yankees, a team in need of a catcher, might be inclined to go to five years at that salary knowing that they can offer a short right-field fence and the designated hitter spot in the lineup three to four days a week.
If McCann can continue his bounce back this season, he may once again enter the conversation of best offensive catcher in the game by the time October comes around. He’s been a popular player for the Braves his entire career. He’s from Atlanta, and he is the face of the franchise now that Chipper Jones has retired.
McCann has invested his whole life in Atlanta, and the Braves have been the only professional organization he’s known. What will that mean this coming offseason? It may mean absolutely nothing. And while that may not sit well with you, me or a majority of the fan base, it may be the best decision for an organization that has to adhere to a strict budget each year.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played between now and decision day on the matter. But the writing on the wall today certainly appears to show McCann playing somewhere else in 2014. It doesn’t mean we have to like it, but it’s a possibility Braves fans must be prepared to face.