When Brian McCann struck out for the 4th and final time of the day in Game 4 of the NLDS, he probably took solace in the fact that the Braves were leading 3-2. But as the events unfolded over the next inning, McCann soon had to face the reality that his Golden Sombrero performance may have been his last in a Braves uniform.
McCann, who will turn 30 before he steps on a Major League field again, is carrying a reputation as a power hitting catcher who can get on base (a thing that many catchers struggle with) into free agency. There is no doubt that the prospect of a .270/.350/.460 slash line from the catching position will draw many teams towards this likely top 5 free agent. McCann is regarded as an average to slightly below average defender at the catching position, and most view his age as the only holdup in forking over a big contract. That of course, is unless you’re in the league where they employ a designated hitter, which McCann could easily shift into towards the end of a potential contract with a American League club like the Texas Rangers or Boston Red Sox. The luxury of the DH makes these teams less reluctant to add more years than some teams, and obviously could be more attractive to McCann.
Evan Gattis‘ feel good story helped launch him into the spotlight after he gained the reputation for launching home runs into the atmosphere. Gattis displayed his strong arm from behind the plate several times in 2013, and has giving seemingly everyone in the organization the indication that he could handle the full time job. The problem with Gattis is that he profiles almost the exact same as Brian McCann in terms of defense and power, but lacks the on base factor(.291 OBP) that makes McCann a hot commodity. The question is, does the money saved by plugging Gattis in as your starter offset the loss of potential runs created?
Christian Bethancourt comes from the Andrelton Simmons school of “Yeah, he’s good, but can he hit?” The notably small framed catcher, known for his skills behind the plate and his speed, carries just a .373 lifetime slugging percentage in the Minor Leagues. The good news is that the 22 year old Panamanian made leaps and bounds with his offense this year, slashing .277/.305/.436, adding 12 homers to go alongside his 11 stolen bases in just 90 games. Although it was only Double A, a guy with this skill set maturing as a hitter that quickly around his age is a very positive sign.
With all due respect to Gerald Laird, who filled a David Ross shape hole in my heart this season with his leadership and play, he was signed to be the backup and will likely stay in that role. There is no doubt he will be a huge influence in the young catching core for years to come.
While Frank Wren has proven to be a wizard in terms of trading, his track record on signing contracts hasn’t exactly been strong. While I think his interest in bringing back McCann is genuine, he probably wants to play it safe with McCann, and will likely only offer what will end up being in low ball territory. I personally do not expect McCann back in Atlanta for 2014, as much as I’d like to be wrong.
Evan Gattis has quite the leash with Fredi Gonzalez (this was made ever apparent when Fredi mistook him for a left fielder in the playoffs), and I think it’d be safe to bet on him opening the season as the Braves catcher. Depending on the further development of Bethancourt, this could change by the All-Star break, as Gattis could be shifted back into a role player position, where I think he is better suited.
Even with the new money each MLB team will be receiving, I think Frank Wren’s reputation for unwillingness to negotiate extension offers will come into play here, allowing McCann to browse the market for an inevitably better deal. It remains to be seen whether Evan Gattis can improve his plate discipline enough to remain a starter, while a potential All-Star in Bethancourt waits in the wings.