Saturday Brian McCann officially left Atlanta to wear Yankee pinstripes and Braves fans on Twitter were in a state of shock. Some blamed the Braves, others called BMac greedy, some disavowed both McCann and the Braves forever while others were just sad. Herewith a look at what happened and why.
The Braves family is emotional about its team. Some like me are up to our neck in Braves details while others simply love the Braves without too much in depth study and others are in between. The reactions I saw came from all three factions. Those who understand were sad. those who don’t were confused and the rest were angry and lashing out. I can’t calm those who were angry and lashing in personal attacks against McCann. I can however explain in – I hope – simple enough terms that those who want to understand why he left can do so. There were essentially two complaints with some variations, so let’s examine them.
1) The Braves Are Cheap
A lot of Twitter Critters ( © me of course) claimed that the Braves were just being cheap, some even compared them to the Marlins. So were they?
The folks screaming cheap or claiming the Braves didn’t value McCann have a short memory. BMac came up at the end of 2005 and after the 2006 season he had played 189 big league games. At that time the Braves offered him (and Jeff Francoeur) an extension for six years $26.8M plus incentives and a $1M signing bonus. Mac signed and thankfully Frenchy turned it down. That contract turned out to be worth $44.7M for McCann.
All contract figures from SpotTrac (membership required)
In contrast Yadier Molina’s contract extension with the Cardinals after his first year was four years $15.5M with a $250K signing bonus and a total of $22.7M while the Twins contract with Joe Mauer from 2007 through 2010 totaled $33M.
The Braves did then what they need to do now with Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman extend them before they get really expensive. Salaries have gone up a lot since McCann was extended while the Braves payroll has not. Even with a hometown discount BMac would have cost $15M a year and frankly they don’t have the money to do that and extend the new stars. What they do have is young, controllable, inexpensive catching and the need to keep multiple future stars instead of one aging star.
2) McCann is Greedy
More than one tweet suggested McCann was being greedy; one compared him to LeBron James. There are so many things wrong with that idea it’s hard to eliminate them all. The James thing is easy, LeBron was offered the maximum salary his team was allowed to offer under their ridiculous salary cap. The Braves didn’t offer Mac a multiyear extension, just a qualifying offer of one year at $14.5M so they could claim a draft pick from whomever signed him. So McCann elected free agency. We know at least three teams made him an offer and he took the best offer available from a perennial world series favorite. That isn’t greed just common sense, That some have an irrational hatred of the Yankees is both well known and well, irrational – they just hate them. Those folks wanted him to turn it down because it was the Yankees. I ask one if he would turn down an extra $25M so he could stay in Atlanta. He didn’t answer so I’ll ask you. If you were a professional baseball player in the top 5 at your position and knowing this is you last chance for a big contract, would you have signed for less money with the Rockies? How about two less years (which equates to at least $35M and more if his option in New York vests) with the Red Sox? < Seeing no hands I move on.> This was not greed. This is simply accepting the value placed on you by the market; no more no less.
Other Bewildering Comments
These aren’t so much questioning why to McCann departed as reactions to it. I’m only going to look at two.
The Yankees Over Paid
There’s a popular misconception that the Yankees still overpay for everyone. Since Hal Steinbrenner’s ignominious extension of Alex Rodriguez came back to haunt them and new luxury tax rules were set in place that has real teeth, they’ve been pretty well within or below the market in their player signings. McCann fills biggest and least available void in the Yankee system; a catcher who can hit. He was the only first tier catcher on the market and the Yankee minor league system has none worth mentioning. BMac isn’t Molina defensively but he’s pretty good, he handles pitchers well, calls a good game and frames pitches with the best of them. He’s also a left handed power bat who hits well in high leverage situations and will benefit from playing in Yankee Stadium 81 times a year. With that short right field porch and big gaps in right and left center he should consistently hit 25-30 homers a year. If the $7m = 1WAR scale is close to right, his $17.5M AAV requires about 2.5 WAR. He’ll easily be a 3 WAR player for the foreseeable future with the Yankees and if he eventually converts to first base/DH after Teixeira marches off into the sunset he should remain at or above 2.5..
The Braves Should Use His Salary to Retool
Well, no, they are about to use it for arbitration raises. Using MLB Trade Rumors estimated arbitration values there’s going to be a 23.53M jump in salary this year without adding in the $4.5M increase for Justin Upton or the $1M increase for B.J. Upton. All together that’s about a $29M increase which uses BMacs $12M, Tim Hudson’s $9M, Paul Maholm’s $6.5M and Reed Johnson’s 1.5M salaries up. What? You heard there was more money? Yes there is. Each team receives some national TV money but I expect them to try and extend Heyward and maybe even Freeman and/or Minor with that. There may be a trade or a signing but there won’t be an influx of new signings simply because BMac and Tim are gone.
That’s a Wrap
I understand Braves family, I really do. It’s emotional whiplash when a player you value highly and think of as apart of your family leaves suddenly; but it wasn’t sudden. In today’s game when a player is two years away from free agency his team has to decide whether they want to extend him, trade him or make plans to move on if he’s out of their price range when he hits free agency.
The Braves couldn’t afford a five year high dollar commitment to a catcher knowing he would likely catch less and less each year. With Freeman superb at first McCann had no other position to go to. The Braves knew they had Christian Bethancourt in the minors ready to bloom.They signed Gerald Laird to be the catcher next year and were pleasantly surprised that Evan Gattis made himself a fixture to platoon with Laird giving Bethancourt time to mature a bit more (and stay inexpensive) at AAA. Everyone knows I have my issues with Frank Wren as GM but the Braves did the right thing and what they had to do.
BMac was always going to walk and the Braves were always going to let him. Bigger questions lay ahead. Chris recently suggested that if a package of players was offered the Braves might trade Craig Kimbrel. I can hear you screaming but Kimbrel will likely make $7.5M this year and double that next. Is the perfect closer worth $15M or is the team better served by having a slightly less than perfect closer AND two or three other pretty good players on its roster? What if Jason Heyward is offered a multiyear extension this off season and turns it down like he did last year. Do you trade him for a package of players and prospects or hold on to him and be ready to accept a draft pick if he walks away after 2015? McCann’s departure was simply the first bump on a long a uncharted road. The Braves are a team of young stars and stars will eventually earn what they are worth whether that’s in Atlanta or elsewhere. Buckle up Braves Family, the ride has just begun.