While I realize the Braves are in the middle of a playoff chase, I want to take some time to focus on this coming offseason. The Braves have a lot of options to decide on. The first and foremost is what direction they want to take with catcher Brian McCann. He has a club option for $12 million for 2013 that will certainly be picked up, but after that he’ll become a free agent. Mac has been a key component of the Braves since his making his MLB debut in June of 2005. He’s a 6-time All-Star and 5-time Silver Slugger Award winner. He was also named the MVP of the 2010 All-Star game. He’s a professional on and off the field and is a perfect role model for kids. There really isn’t anything negative to say about him from a personal standpoint and that’s the type of players the Braves love going after.
Since 2009, McCann has been the 2nd best catcher in baseball with a 14 WAR, behind only Joe Mauer who sports a 15 WAR. In 2010, Joe Mauer was 28 and signed an 8 year, $184 million contract extension with the Minnesota Twins. The deal was stretched to 8 years only because of Mauer’s offensive ability and the fact that the Twins are an AL team and can push him into a full-time DH role after a few years. Just this past offseason, Yadier Molina received a 5 year, $75 million extension from the Cardinals, at the age of 29. Molina is the best catcher in baseball, hands down, but is average at best with the bat (even with his good year thus far this year). McCann on the other hand, is pretty bad defensively, and is considered the best catcher in the game by most because of his offensive ability. He’s a middle of the lineup bat that produces. That automatically pushes his value up above Molina’s. I don’t see McCann being worth Joe Mauer type numbers, simply because he’ll be 31 in 2014 when he hits the free agent market, but he’s is almost certainly guaranteed at least $100 million. Ironically, he’ll hit free agency around the same time the Yankees will be looking for a catcher. Don’t think they wouldn’t fork out Mauer-like figures for a power hitting catcher. If you rule out the Yankees, McCann should receive somewhere in the neighborhood of 5 years and $100 million.
So what the Braves must decide now is if they’re willing to throw 20% of their payroll to a guy who will probably only play about 110-120 games a year for five years, when he will probably begin regressing after he hits the age of 32 or 33…if he hasn’t already begun. In his career, McCann has caught over 8,000 innings. That’s an unheard of number of innings for someone his age. Considering he broke into the majors at the age of 21, it’s no surprise though. With all that wear and tear on his knees, it’s easy to assume that he will begin regressing earlier than other catchers may. The last thing the Braves need is to get into another bad contract (they have one already with Dan Uggla making over $12 million/year) that will tie their hands and their future. Unless he’s willing to take a hometown discount, which is not a far-fetched idea, McCann may walk after 2013. The fact that he was born and raised in Georgia, grew up a Braves fan, was drafted and produced through the Braves farm system, and broke into the majors with the Braves, all bode well for Atlanta if they want to ask him to take a discount. If he’d be willing to sign a 4 year and $13 million a year deal, that’d be more ideal for their payroll.
One thing to keep in mind is that the Braves have the top catching prospect in baseball in the minors with Christian Bethancourt. He is a beast defensively but has yet to prove he has what it takes to be an everyday catcher at the major league level with his bat. Since he’s just 20, it’s easy to assume that his offense will come around though. With the end of the minor league season coming soon, I would nearly bet money Bethancourt will be called up in September. I also bet he’ll go down to play winter ball to continue working on his offense. With that extra time and all of next season, the Braves should have a good feel for his future by the end of the 2013 season.
I personally don’t see the Braves letting McCann go without a fight. I also wouldn’t be surprised if an AL team doesn’t throw out way more money than any NL team could thanks to the fact that he can catch about 100 games and then DH the other 63. If it were up to me however, I’d go all in this winter with Michael Bourn. We’re talking about a centerfielder that covers an insane amount of ground and the best leadoff man in baseball. He’ll be 31 at the start of the 2013 season, but unlike McCann, he rarely needs a day off for a breather. There is zero chance that he signs an extension before the season ends since he’s a Scott Boras client. Boras likes his players on the FA market so they can get the top dollar. The Braves also don’t like to deal with Boras, but Boras claims to have a strong relationship with the Braves…who knows who’s telling the truth on that one. He’s likely going to be the hottest free agent this coming offseason with the Nationals, Phillies, Rangers, and Giants all showing interest in him. Imagine having to face the Nationals with an outfield of Bourn, Werth, and Harper. The Braves are probably going to have to go up towards 4-5 years and $13-$15 million per year to re-sign Bourn. Bourn has said he likes playing in Atlanta so that’s a plus. I’d much rather see Bourn making $15 million at the age of 36 than McCann making $20 million at that age…but that’s just me.