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The Yankees should look to trade Brian McCann this winter

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He was useful as a catcher, but his value drops considerably in any other role.

New York Yankees v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

In Game One of the World Series, fans saw that a team can certainly survive without a stellar catcher. Roberto Perez (aka Berpo) hit two home runs in a single World Series game; he was an unlikely hero considering his mere 86 career wRC+ over 505 regular season plate appearances.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have two competent catchers instead of none, but they do not have a World Series championship caliber team. If getting to that point means allocating assets in such a way that areas of excess can lead to filling areas of need, then that means one thing: moving Brian McCann.

Even though he has earned a bad reputation for his hitting tendencies and low batting average, McCann has been an incredibly valuable player. Here’s his five-year WARP summary, according to Baseball Prospectus:

Even though there is a clear trend downward, consider what he’s being paid, and what a player of similar value would command on the market today. 7.7 wins over three years (and he wasn’t even used full-time this season) puts him in the upper tier of catchers in baseball over the past three years.

However, that trend line matters. McCann’s defensive value is still great, but he has already declined from something like a 20 FRAA defender to something like 10 FRAA, which means that each day forward is one day closer to his defensive value being wiped. His offense is fine—league average—but that isn’t improving. He’s going to hit 20 home runs or so, but there is almost no upside.

There is also Gary Sanchez. It’s not like sticking Sanchez in there as the everyday catcher is completely foolproof—baseball has seen plenty of young players fall from grace after that initial spark—but his true talent will eclipse that of McCann pretty soon, if not already. Even if he’s a two-win player, which I believe he is, then he’s as good, if not better, than having McCann play behind the plate. There’s also McCann’s vesting option that only goes through if he catches 90 games in 2018 and has 1,000 plate appearances in the next two years, so this further incentives him to waive his no-trade clause.

Suppose McCann doesn’t care about that (which he doesn’t have to in 2017), and he sticks around as the designated hitter and backup first baseman next year. Greg Bird, after all, isn’t guaranteed to pick up where he left off, so McCann could be good insurance. Again, though, there is that lack of upside.

The league average wRC+ for a designated hitter was 115 in 2016. For first basemen, it was 108. McCann has averaged a 101 wRC+ since 2014, which is fine—when the league average for a catcher is 87. When you move positions like that, you’re actually downgrading marginally.

That’s why it absolutely makes more sense to move McCann then keep him. Trading him would allow some salary relief depending on the deal, flexibility in that the designated hitter role becomes the revolving “half-day-off” role it was in the past, and it allows the Yankees to upgrade elsewhere.

It was reported a few days back that the Yankees were holding out price-wise with the Braves; Brian Cashman won’t accept a deal without Mike Foltynewicz or Ender Inciarte, which makes perfect sense. Just because you have an asset that should be moved doesn’t mean you move it no matter what. I’m sure Cashman knows this.

At the same time, though, this becomes a trap. If the Yankees are too beholden to their demands, then they are forced to play McCann, which, while it wouldn’t be the end of the world, leads to that marginal downgrade and lack of upgrade elsewhere.

I like Brian McCann. I think he has a great rapport with pitchers and seems to be a veteran leader, which is so valuable when you have a team that is all of the sudden stacked with youngsters. He’s probably going to have an overlooked Yankees career, which is unfortunate, but much of that has to do with the era in which he played; this was a transitional period, and that’s not his fault.

The Yankees could come out of this deal net-positive, and like with Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman, and Andrew Miller, McCann could give the Yankees one final gift in what he returns to the Yankees in a trade, one that could benefit the club for many years down the road.