The Yankees have just made the first big free agent splash of the offseason, signing Brian McCann to a five-year contract worth north of 80 million. The official terms of the deal have yet to be released, but Ken Rosenthal is reporting it to be worth $85 million over five years with a vesting option for a sixth that will bring it up to $100 million.
Literally, the first thing that went through my mind was that Chris Stewart's days in a Yankee uniform will (hopefully) be over. It wouldn't have taken much for the Yankees to upgrade offensively behind the plate, but they went out and got the biggest name on the market. McCann is going to produce. He's a career .277/.350/.473 hitter and he just hit .256/.336/.461 in 2013 with 20 home runs. He's had consistent, above average power behind the plate, hitting 20 or more home runs in seven of the last eight seasons. His career wRC+ of 117 is also well above average, and he's generally been reliable defensively.
McCann is one of the better catchers in baseball, so from a production standpoint, this is not a bad deal. After Yankee catchers OPS'd just .587 in 2013, well below the league average of .698, McCann and his career OPS of .823 will present a nice change. It's also possible, as with any left-handed hitter, that playing half his games in Yankee Stadium will enhance his power numbers a bit.
Despite this, there are concerns with the signing. McCann is going to be 30 years old, and it's uncertain that he'll be able to be a full time catcher for the duration of his contract, especially since he has potential injury concerns. He also does have a noticeable righty-lefty split (125 career wRC+ vs. righties, 99 vs. lefties), though it isn't substantial enough for it to be a major problem.
One of the biggest questions I have about this deal is what it means for the future of the catchers in the system, mainly Gary Sanchez. Sanchez is the system's top prospect and the only one who currently might project as a starting catcher in the major leagues. He finished 2013 at Double-A, so he's probably at least a full season away as it is, but it's possible that the signing of McCann could make them more likely to dangle Sanchez on the trade market to try and upgrade in other areas. Personally I would avoid doing that unless it's an obvious, slam-dunk deal for someone at another position. McCann, again, has health concerns, and it's possible that a move to first base could be in order for him at some point down the road. Mark Teixeira's contract expires after 2016, so they may want to move McCann to first base after three seasons and allow Sanchez to catch full-time. This, by the way, would be similar to the way they eased Jorge Posada into the starting job in the late '90s.
Contract wise, this actually isn't as bad as a lot of people thought it would be, though it is still a very lucrative contract. The AAV will be $17 million, which Rosenthal reported is the highest ever for a free agent catcher. He also has a full no-trade clause. If McCann can stay healthy and continue to post an .800+ OPS as a catcher, then that's enough production to live with the salary.
On the surface, the Yankees massively upgraded a position that was essentially an automatic out in 2013. On the short-term, I think it can be a good deal. How it works long term really depends on whether or not his body holds up. The Yankees still have a lot of work to do this offseason, but if they were going to go after a big name like McCann, I'm glad they got it out of the way early on.