Brian McCann is back in the lineup for the Atlanta Braves. He’s been there for a couple days now after being reactivated on Monday following a shoulder injury to his throwing arm last October, and the subsequent surgery to repair the damage. He suffered a tear to his right labrum, and had been in rehab for almost seven months before feeling well enough for a stint in the minors. McCann’s rehab assignments went well, where in a combination of class A and class AAA ball, Brian batted .348 delivering one double, four homers, and nine RBIs.
The major concern for the veteran catcher though was not his offense so much as his ability to throw the ball after having suffered the torn labrum. Brian answered that question by throwing well in his rehab assignments, feeling strong and recovering well over night. When asked how his shoulder was doing, Brian said…
‘I had a really good rehab stint. ’Things went well, just the way the ball was coming out and how I was recovering the next day. I pushed it as much as I could and woke up the next day feeling good. The strength is there and the durability is there.”
Fans and teammates alike are thrilled at the prospect of having a catcher in the lineup who is also a proven offensive weapon. After all, despite McCann’s struggles in recent years (in 2012, Brian hit for a career-low .230 with just 20 homers and 67 RBIs in 121 games), his credentials are impressive! Brian is a six-time All Star, selected each year from 2006 to 2011, and in 2010 was voted the ALL STAR MVP. He is also a five-time Silver Slugger winner, selected for that honor from 2006 to 2011, missing the honor only in 2007. Even Brian’s numbers in 2012, while low for him, were not bad at all for a catcher, where your ability behind the plate is what you are paid for. Brian has never faltered there either. For example, while Brian doesn’t specifically have a stellar reputation for a great arm, he has nonetheless been top 5 in putouts as a catcher from 2006 through 2011, and was ranked 1st in 2010. Perhaps that is why Brian is so valuable, because it is rare to have a catcher talented on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game.
Despite Brian McCann’s obvious value, I hear many fans and reporters assuming that this is probably the last year with the Braves for Brian McCann. Jon Heyman of CBS Sports believes “the handwriting is on the wall”, that Evan Gattis will be the starting catcher for the Atlanta Braves in 2014. Jon makes a valid point, and fans seem to love Evan Gattis. Evan is playing well, is considerably cheaper than the $12 Million the Braves are currently paying McCann, and the Braves year-end, year-out desire to keep their budget around the $90s in millions are definite arguments for making the assumption that Brian may have seen his last year with the Braves. I’m just not sure we can yet make such an assumption.
McCann becomes a free agent in 2014, and whether or not Brian remains with the Atlanta Braves will depend on some decisions, by both parties, that we are just not currently privy to. According to free agency rules, the Atlanta Braves could receive compensation for Brian McCann’s free agency with a draft pick, but in order to get that compensation they would need to offer McCann arbitration. Arbitration is where the team offers an amount they are willing to pay, and the player offers an amount he desires to be paid. A 3rd party arbitrator then decides on an amount believed to be mutually beneficial to both parties. In short, if those parties cannot agree, then the player is simply released in the hopes they will be picked up by another team. The Atlanta Braves may not be interested in a draft pick compensation, but even if they are, and offer Brian arbitration, can we rightly assume that Brian will not accept the offer? He is in his 9th year with the Atlanta Braves, and has played professionally for no other team. He is a mainstay, a bulwark, a fixture with Atlanta. Couple that together with his numbers, and I am not ready to make the assumption just yet that Brian will not be in a Braves uniform in 2014. It’s a good problem to have, when you have to decide between a hot Evan Gattis, and a veteran Brian McCann, but I’m not going to assume as the 2013 season plays out, that Evan Gattis will continue to be the hot player he currently is. I don’t wish to disrespect Mr. Gattis at all when I say this, but despite the romanticism of Evan’s story, he has an odd past that might raise a red flag for some in terms of long-term reliability.
Let’s not forget Gerald Laird either. Laird is an eleven year veteran, with tons of experience handling pitchers. It was not an accident that Fredi Gonzalez had him catch for young pitchers like Julio Teheran at the start of the season, when so many fans were baffled that Evan Gattis was not catching every game. Laird brings a wealth of experience to the field, and in my opinion has been a strong asset for the Braves, particularly in the early season absence of Brian McCann. Gerald Laird signed with Atlanta for two years, so we do not yet know how Laird will factor into these future decisions as well.
In short, none of us really know what the Braves are going to do. I tend to agree that there is at least a strong possibility that 2013 may be McCann’s last year with the Braves, but I find that just a touch hard to swallow in May. Perhaps it’s merely because I have been such a fan of Brian McCann throughout his career. Perhaps it’s because he is still pretty young, and despite the so-called 2012 hiccup year, I think Brian still has it in him to be an ALL STAR MVP several more times. I don’t know. I just know that there are still unanswered questions about Evan Gattis’ long-term reliability, but few about Brian McCann. My true hope, and my prediction as well, is that they are both on the team in 2014. A guy can dream!