With any free agent signing, people are going to approve and disapprove. Some will say it was a steal for the team, others for the player. Signing Brian McCann to a (potentially) $100 million contract will get a lot of attention and a lot of debate. In this instance I don't think anyone is exactly wrong, as he is an absolute slam dunk for the Yankees, yet still a serious risk for them.
Simply put, Brian McCann was the best catcher on the market, and it wasn't even close. While $85 million over five years is a lot, the Yankees will get better production in 2014 over Jarrod Saltalamacchia and A.J. Pierzynski, the next two catchers on the power rankings. He'll actually be a better option over the 2015 free agent crop of Russell Martin, Ryan Hanigan, and Ryan Doumit, so the Yankees had to spend the most to get the most in return.
While they only needed a moderate upgrade to have a better option than what they had in 2013, the Yankees opted to go for broke at a position that desperately needed improvement. This past season, Chris Stewart had a 58 wRC+, while Austin Romine had an even worse 48 wRC+. Together with a handful of games form Francisco Cervelli and J.R. Murphy, the Yankees' catching corps placed 23rd overall in WAR (0.9) and 26th in wRC+ (61). Brian McCann alone had a 2.7 WAR and 122 wRC+, despite returning from offseason shoulder surgery and missing the first month of the season. With his career .277/.350/.473 line and the 20-home run potential, he will be a major upgrade over what they had. Like night and day.
Unfortunately, while he promises to bring immediate improvements to the lineup, his injury history brings on a lot of potential risk. He had shoulder surgery last offseason, and while his offensive game didn't suffer in 2013, it completely killed him in 2012. That year he only hit .230/.300/.399 as he dealt with shoulder inflammation, damage to his labrum and a cyst, but finally succumbing to a hamstring injury and shoulder surgery. It's been fixed, but there's no telling how major surgery will hamper his career.
McCann isn't a great defender behind the plate, having a -13 defensive runs saved for his career. He's not great against base runners either, with a -5 stolen base runs saved and a meager 24% caught stealing rate. He does have a 22.3 blocked pitches above average, so we might not have to worry about fastballs down the middle hitting the backstop. By the end of his contract, there's no telling where he will be defensively, he might even be someone who will have to move out from behind the plate and take over first base when Mark Teixeira leaves after 2016.
So far he hasn't dealt with a lot of major injuries, just one is enough for me, but he has suffered from a series of mild injuries here and there, and seeing how young he was then, makes me worry about what the Yankees will have to deal with when he's 34 and 35. He's already missed plenty of days thanks to foul tips and contusions that all catchers suffer through. He also suffered two ankle sprains, a knee sprain, an injured groin and a concussion.
Looking back at Jorge Posada, he missed only 25 games between his age-31 and age-35 seasons. Comparatively, McCann has already missed 81 games between his age-25 and age-29 seasons. He also missed an additional 28 games between 2006 and 2008, so a total of 109 games before the age of 30. Thankfully, the shoulder is really the only injury to keep an eye on. His legs, which are important to a catcher, both at the plate and behind it, have also been pretty healthy so far.
To go along with his injuries, McCann seems to be a second half-fader. If people were annoyed at Russell Martin's production patterns, McCann at $18 million for half a year of production could really have people seeing red. Over his career he has a 126 wRC+ in the first half, but only a 107 wRC+ in the second half. That's still fine, but consider the fact that he's been a below-average hitter in the second half of the last three seasons. Combine that to a quickly growing platoon split and the Yankees are going to need to make sure they have a solid backup catcher, like the Braves had in David Ross.
It's definitely possible that he's healthy now and the only thing the Yankees will have to worry about are the normal wears and tears all catchers deal with. He'll only be 34/35 by the end of the deal, so he shouldn't be completely broken down. Playing in the American League and being able to DH will hopefully keep him healthy and productive throughout the season. The Yankees are hoping to benefit from the first few years of the deal while bracing for impact and hoping the damage is not too terrible in the latter years. Right now it's a good deal, but anything can happen to turn it into an albatross. Look what happened to Joe Mauer.