Could the Braves' Brian McCann Be a Russell Martin Alternative for the Yankees?

Brian Kersey

SBN Designated Columnist Bill Parker examines the rumor that the Braves could shop McCann to the Yankees and asks if such a deal would would be wise for New York.

You might have missed it, coming as it did at the very bottom of an (ESPN Insider-only) article called "Braves face tough call on Brian McCann" from a couple days ago, but after going through four reasons why the Braves are much less certain to pick up McCann's $12 million, 2013 option that one would have assumed a few months ago, among them his recovery from shoulder surgery which was more extensive than expected, Buster Olney wrote:

If the Braves decide they don't want to keep McCann, they could simply not pick up the option, or they could try to recoup some value by exercising the option and trading him to a team that could use him as a DH part time, such as the Rangers, the Yankees, the Rays, etc.

But does McCann make any sense for the Yankees?

Russell Martin's contract is up, and despite his career-high 21 homers in 2012, his overall production in two years as the Yankees' starting catcher -- .211/.317/.405 (94 OPS+), 3.9 total Baseball-Reference WAR -- is the sort that one would usually expect the Yankees to seek to improve upon.

McCann certainly has a Yankees sort of name. He's a left-handed slugger with six straight All-Star appearances (ending in 2012), five Silver Sluggers, a career .279/.351/.475 line, and a 117 OPS+ that places him sixth among active catchers (and it should be noted that three of the five ahead of him started at least 30% of their 2012 games at other positions, and another missed the whole season). Coming into 2012, if you wanted to target a top catcher for 2013 -- any catcher -- McCann, given the injury questions surrounding Buster Posey and Joe Mauer, would probably have been your number-one pick.

Then 2012 happened, and it was not good at all to Brian McCann. He hit .230/.300/.399, career lows in all three categories, with a career-low 87 OPS+ and 86 wRC+, and just 0.6 WAR. Each of those numbers, save the batting average, was worse than Martin's. McCann was injured, of course -- he battled several injuries over the course of the season, primary among them a bad labrum in his throwing shoulder -- so you can't take those numbers at face value, but you can't just assume he'll come back and be himself again, either. I see at least three warning signs here:

Part of Olney's main point, from the Braves' perspective, was that they may not want to pick up McCann's option because his shoulder represents so much risk. McCann underwent shoulder surgery last week, with a four- to six-month rehab schedule that could mean he's not even ready for Opening Day, and when he can play, who knows how strong that shoulder will be? The injury could affect both McCann's throwing and his swing (with what Olney characterized as his "high-torque one-handed finish"). When a columnist is suggesting a team look to trade a player because he presents too large a risk, the would-be acquiring team's fans probably shouldn't be too quick to jump at that. After all, the seller has perfect knowledge (or as close as we can come to it) of the player's medical situation, so if they're looking to deal, caveat emptor.

Another part of Olney's point, reflected in the quote above, is that the Braves could look to trade McCann "to a team that could use him as a DH part time." That'd certainly be good for McCann, but it's hard to see how that adds value to the Yankees. Even if McCann comes back at his full strength and matches his 2009-2011 OPS+ of 122 (ignoring that he'll be moving to the league that's probably still a bit harder, and that players tend to hit less at DH than when they're playing a position), that's a lot less impressive than it would be if he put up the same numbers as a catcher. A 122 OPS+ from a catcher is a star-level performance; from a DH, it's more like an extra piece (Andruw Jones put up a 126 OPS+ as the Yankees' extra outfielder/DH in 2011, for instance). More to the point, I don't think a team with at least four key players aged 32 or (in some cases much) older ever needs a DH -- that's a position you might expect will figure itself out. So: two of the reasons Olney thinks it would make sense for the Braves to deal him are reasons that either make it a less attractive proposition or don't do anything at all for the Yankees.

Finally, I get the sense people think of Martin as aging and breaking down -- after all, it's been four full years since he was an above-average hitter, hitting for good averages and stealing bases. Here's the thing, though: Martin will turn 30 on February 14, McCann will turn 29 on February 20. Martin's legs have logged 1,197 games at catcher between the majors and minors; McCann's, 1,160. You might look at Martin and see a guy who just can't quite get it done the way he used to; you might very well end up seeing the exact same thing in McCann.

McCann has been a lot better than Martin over the last five years, and all in all, it's probably a good bet that he'll be back to being better than Martin again in 2013. But with all the uncertainty surrounding McCann, I just don't think the gap is quite big enough that I'd be willing to pay something like 50 percent more money, and give up some non-trivial prospect or prospect package, for the chance that McCann comes back as his old self. If the Braves are willing to settle for a limited return given McCann's uncertain status and off year, then the outlook might be different.

Then again, I'm thinking with my Midwestern limited-budget glasses on. Could the Yankees retain Martin (right-handed hitter with an .830 career OPS vs. lefties) and bag McCann (a lefty with an .856 OPS vs. righties)? That would sure solve a lot of those uncertainty problems, and whenever healthy, the combination of the two might give them the best catcher in the league.

Bill Parker is one of SBN's Designated Columnists and one of the creators of The Platoon Advantage. Follow him at @Bill_TPA.

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