Just two days ago, Bradley Woodrum reviewed the remaining catchers on the free agent market along with the teams looking to sign a catcher. He concluded that there were four starting catchers available for seven jobs. Now it’s three catchers for six jobs after the New York Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year contract yesterday. And Kudos to Woodrum for predicting this signing in his article.
This is what we know of the deal thus far. It is a five-year contract worth $85 million that contains a no trade clause and some kind of vesting option for a sixth season. Details on the option year are still unclear. If reached, the option will bring the total value of the deal north of $100 million.
In many ways, this move is a match made in heaven. McCann is one of the best defensive catchers in the league, he combines a good feel for the basics of the position with excellent pitch framing skills. Per Woodrum’s article, McCann’s saved 65 runs over the last three seasons via pitch framing. In addition to his defensive reputation, McCann carries a loud bat that is typically 20 percent above league average. That’s not catcher average, it’s league average.
Steamer projects McCann to compile 3.6 WAR over 402 plate appearances. With the designated hitter role now available to him, McCann may see as many as 600 plate appearances (barring injury). If we’re being thoroughly pessimistic, we can call that 600 plate appearance projection about 3.5 WAR. Add another 1.5 WAR for catching contributions not currently included, like framing, and McCann projects as a roughly five WAR player in 2014.
If we assume that the cost of a win will be around $6 million, then the Yankees are paying for 14 wins over the guaranteed portion of the contract. While catchers do tend to age more rapidly than other position players, McCann is entering his age 30 season, so he’s relatively young. At this point in his career and given that we project him to about five wins in 2014, he may be able to earn the entirety of the contract over the first three seasons.
There is also the consideration of home stadium. McCann is a pull hitter and drives most of his home runs out to right field. Per Fangraphs’ own park factors, McCann is moving from a stadium that is league average for left-handed home runs (100 park factor) to one that inflates home runs by 14 percent (114 park factor). Below is an overlay of the two stadiums.
And here is McCann’s spray chart from 2013, so you can visualize how many warning track shots might have found their way over the wall.
This information is not accounted for in the earlier projection that we discussed. Since McCann’s offense game is particularly well tailored to his new home park, it should mean that the Yankees will get an even greater return on their investment.
From the Yankees perspective, this deal may indicate a lesson learned. Last offseason, the Yankees were attempting to cut costs and refused to offer Russell Martin a reasonable, two-year contract. He eventually signed with the Pirates and helped them reach the postseason for the first time since
the height of the Roman Empire 1992.
Meanwhile, the Yankees received almost no offense from the four catchers they employed and missed the postseason. It’s worth noting that they missed the postseason by more than just one good catcher, but that was one of the black holes on the roster. Third base, shortstop, first base, right field, and designated hitter were also varying degrees of terrible. Really, it’s amazing that they won 88 games, but I digress…
With McCann off the market, other clubs looking for starting catchers will have to choose between Jarrod Saltalamacchia, A.J. Pierzynski, Dioner Navarro, and a variety of backup quality options. Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan also remains available on the trade market. The Red Sox are the most tangibly in need of a catcher at this point.
There is some speculation that the signing could affect negotiations with top free agent Robinson Cano, but that strikes me as unlikely. With the paucity of reliable catchers on the market, the Yankees needed to strike quickly to plug that void. I have little doubt that they would have acquired McCann with or without Cano.
It feels as though this match was inevitable. The Yankees had every reason to value McCann more highly than any other team. They have a hungry fan base that supplies massive revenue, a dearth of quality internal options at the position, and a home stadium that maximizes McCann’s offensive potential. Of teams interested in catchers, only the Rockies can match the Yankees on that latter point, but they can’t come close on the revenue side. All told, this deal smells like a winner for both team and player.