With the retirement of the legendary Chipper Jones, the Atlanta Braves already have a big pair of spikes to fill. But with off-season surgery, slumping offensive numbers, and a contract option this year, the Braves also might have to replace long time catcher Brian McCann.
The Atlanta catcher had surgery on his right shoulder earlier this month to repair a tear in the labrum, a tear that was larger than was shown in an initial MRI. The injury had hampered McCann’s performance for most of the 2012 season.
McCann is scheduled to be able to return to light baseball activities in about four to five months, which means that he would still be limited in activity when spring training begins. If McCann’s rehabilitation goes as expected, he could be able to return to full baseball activity in approximately six months, which could have him possibly ready to play by the season opener.
That’s an awful lot of ifs and maybes to apply to an 8-year veteran catcher who’s about to have a contract option come up. The Braves have until three days after the World Series to pick up their $12 million option for McCann in 2013.
Injury aside, there is no question that McCann’s offensive stats have been in decline for the last four seasons. His home run, RBI, and hit totals have all dropped off more and more each season since 2008, and he’s never been thought of as the best defensive catcher in the game.
So outside of loyalty (which can be a huge trap) and trying to retain a fan favorite (which is an even bigger one), what would be the advantage for the Braves in signing a huge contract option for McCann? I honestly can’t see any.
McCann is certainly one of the good guys in the game of baseball, and has made a lot of great contributions to the Braves organization. But in this era of sports, ownership and management have to take the same “what’s best for me” approach that players do when free-agency approaches.
The Braves have a top catching prospect in Christian Bethancourt who’s probably ready to be given his shot at the bigs, they have an excellent veteran (and inexpensive) catcher in David Ross who can not only probably match McCann’s mediocre offensive stats right now, but also has a much better arm and defensive abilities.
The Braves could also make better use of the $12 million they’d have to pay McCann this year. Taking that money combined with the huge chucks of money coming off the books from Chipper Jones’ and Derek Lowe‘s (yes they were still paying him) salaries, Atlanta could make a run at some of the premier free agents in the league.
Eight to ten years is pretty much the average run for any decent starting catcher in the majors, and Brian McCann has reached that threshold. When you look at some of the glaring needs the Braves have coming into 2013, and some of their own players that they need to ante up for – one Craig Kimbrel springs to mind – the prospect of re-signing an aging catcher returning from shoulder surgery seems dim indeed.