Brian McCann's brand new five-year, $85 million Yankee contract makes the 30-year-old former Brave the best compensated free agent catcher of all-time. His yearly largess falls in ahead of Yadier Molina's $15 million and a notch behind Buster Posey's $18.55 million. Joe Mauer officially no longer resides behind the plate, but he did when he signed his eight-year deal with the Twins, which pays him $23 million per season.
McCann has joined the fiscal elite of big league backstops, but does he deserve it? He hasn't won an MVP like Mauer and Posey or multiple World Series rings like Posey and Molina. Here's a look at where his on-field prowess ranked in 2013 among the top catchers in baseball in fWAR, homers, OPS and wRC+.
2013 top 15 catchers by fWAR:
McCann's numbers don't exactly stand out. While he was second out of all MLB catchers in home runs in only 102 games played, he was eighth in OPS, sixth in wRC+ and eighth in wOBA at .347. He threw out 24.2 percent of potential base-stealers which was middle of the pack, though he's generally regarded as a good defender. His three passed balls were the fewest of catchers with more than 90 games behind the plate. Projecting that total out over a full season would keep him in the top ten. It's worth noting that Mauer will be playing first base in 2014 and that others on this list, namely Carlos Santana and Wilin Rosario will probably transition to new positions within the next couple of years as well.
McCann has a longer track record of success than most of the competition above. Here's how he compares with other catchers over the past five years.
2009-2013 top 10 catchers by fWAR:
We find that 2013, other than the time he missed due to injury, was a pretty typical season for McCann when weighed against what he's done over the last half-decade. He climbs the list in some categories because consistency is difficult too come by in a catcher. Since 2009, McCann's second in homers with 106 - second to Mike Napoli, who no longer catches. He's fourth in fWAR, sixth in OPS and seventh in wRC+. Defensive metrics for catchers can be sketchy but for what it's worth, his Fangraphs defensive rating is third. He's also caught the sixth most innings of any catcher in that span.
McCann doesn't blow you away in any particular aspect of the game, but his well-roundedness and dependability are rare assets among today's catchers. There aren't a lot of quality defenders who also hit - they're a valuable commodity, especially with a manager like Joe Girardi, who prefers glove-first backstops. Of the players who'll play primarily behind the plate in 2014, only Molina and Posey are easy bets to be better, though Jason Castro and Salvador Perez have bullets beside their names.
The Yankees set out to buy themselves one of the top catchers in baseball, and in that they succeeded. McCann's salary might slot in slightly higher than his on-field worth, but $17 million per year doesn't buy what it once did. If Molina and Posey were free agents today they'd be looking at AAV's in the twenties. The cost of good, but not great, has gone sky high. Brian McCann is to catching, roughly what Hunter Pence is to the outfield, or what C.J. Wilson is to pitching. In that respect, the price the Yankees paid was more than fair.
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