After making the All-Star game in every full season of his career, Brian McCann ran into an injury plagued 2012 that saw him post a wRC+ of just 86, 30 points lower than his career average. To top it off, he only just returned from shoulder surgery yesterday and he is in his last year under contract with Atlanta. As the former perennial all-star is set to hit free agency, another bump in the road has crossed in front of him in Evan Gattis. McCann may still be headed for a big pay day, but he will have to battle for playing time when the Braves are healthy with what looks to be the team’s catcher of the future.
McCann will be given every opportunity to hold onto the starting job that he has owned since 2006. However, the Braves are ready to win now, and if McCann struggles as he did last season the Braves will give Gattis more and more plate appearances behind the plate. The potential for a platoon is real, which would seriously hurt McCann’s overall fantasy value.
While he is a less polished hitter than McCann, Gattis’s power is significant and the team has faith in him improving at the plate with more experience against major league pitching. Needless to say, McCann has a lot riding on a good final five months before hitting free agency.
If all goes as planned for Atlanta, they will try to manage getting Gattis three to four starts a week between catcher, first base, and left field. The issue with doing this is that those three positions arguably hold the team’s top hitters, especially when you consider the ability to move Upton to right field and putting Gattis in left to spell Jason Heyward – when he is healthy – against left-handed pitchers. That means the four options for fitting Gattis into the lineup mean taking McCann, Freddie Freeman, Justin Upton, or Jason Heyward out. Gattis is good, but those are franchise type hitters.
Fredi Gonzalez will have a difficult task at hand and we have seen what type of manager he is over the past few years. He is more than willing to play the hot hand over the name late in the season, as evident when he played Jose Constanza down the stretch over Jason Heyward during Heyward’s rough sophomore campaign.
So what should owners be expecting out of McCann? Well, he hit his first home run of the season last night off Ryan Vogelsong in San Francisco, a park known for destroying right field home runs. That was certainly a good sign, but far from a reason to put a “buy” sign on McCann. I believe he will have a big year at the plate, mostly due to how good of shape he has gotten himself in and how important this season is for his future as a major leaguer. Getting in quality shape was extremely important for him. If he got tagged as a guy with only a few seasons remaining behind the plate, he would get much less money in free agency as a soon-to-be-DH.
From a fantasy perspective, it is good that he did not rush himself back too quickly from the shoulder surgery. He looks to have no issues with his swing or in his motion behind the plate. It is difficult to simply assume he will be healthy, but at this point it does not look like the shoulder injury will continue to linger. Assuming it doesn’t, I think the ZiPS projections on McCann for the rest of the season look fairly accurate. For reference, ZiPS has McCann at a .259/.340/.444 line with 15 more home runs and 53 RBI. That is all in just 90 games and 362 plate appearances, so those are quality numbers.
If I am having issues at catcher, I am absolutely going after Brian McCann. At this point, he can still be had for cheap. Make a solid offer and I bet you end up happy you grabbed McCann in his final season. These are the types of moves that can push you over the edge, so go after McCann aggressively and grab him before he goes on a tear and jumps out of your price range.
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