Brian McCann Would Be Wrong Free-Agent Investment for Champion Red Sox

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Brian McCann Would Be Wrong Free-Agent Investment for Champion Red Sox

With the confetti still lining the city streets following their World Series victory, the Boston Red Sox are plotting moves that will help bring the franchise a second consecutive championship next year. 

One of the premiere names on the free-agent market is Brian McCann, who could upgrade what is already the best offenses in baseball and fill a void at catcher if Jarrod Saltalamacchia signs elsewhere. 

Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal noted that because the Red Sox didn't give Saltalamacchia a $14.1 million qualifying offer, meaning he will be free to sign with another team without draft-pick compensation, McCann is on the team's radar. 

But beyond Saltalamacchia, whose free-agent market the Red Sox could have undercut had they tendered a qualifying offer, the market for catchers is thin.

--snip--

The rest of the free-agent class is a hodge-podge of mediocrity or worse -- except for Brian McCann, who at this point looks like Boston's primary free-agent target.

I find it interesting that the Red Sox would be in on a player like McCann, who is likely to command at least a four- or five-year contract.

Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, talking to an MLB general manager, wrote McCann could get a deal in the range of six years, $100 million this offseason.

One big thing general Ben Cherington has done in his two years as general manager is avoid handing out significant long-term commitments to free agents and been able to rid the roster of expensive contracts stretched out over four or five seasons. 

Last year, for example, despite adding a lot of players to the roster via free agency (Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara and David Ross), none of them got a deal longer than three years. 

There is no doubt that, when healthy, McCann is one of the best catchers in baseball. Take a look at his offensive output compared to other backstops around the game. 

Notable Stats for Catchers
Player Seasons AVG OBP SLG
Brian McCann 9 .277 .350 .473
Buster Posey 5 .308 .377 .486
Joe Mauer 10 .323 .405 .468
Yadier Molina 10 .284 .339 .404
Matt Wieters 5 .255 .319 .420

Baseball Reference

McCann is one of the three best catchers in baseball when it comes to offensive production, including six consecutive seasons with at least 20 home runs and no fewer than 18 in a season since becoming a full-time player in 2006. 

However, you will notice I made a point to say "when healthy." McCann has had problems staying on the field the last two years, which has taken a toll on his production. He's played in just 223 games since the start of 2012, hitting .242/.316/.426 in 889 plate appearances. 

Age and defense are also working against McCann. He is going to turn 30 February 20. With nine years of professional catching experience under his belt, there is a lot of wear and tear on his body. He already had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum in October 2012, which is a big reason he's missed so much time the last two years. 

McCann does earn high marks for blocking, receiving and pitch framing. He actually finished the 2012 season as the No. 23 catcher in baseball defensively (out of 116 players listed). 

That said, McCann's defensive value has declined every year since his high-water mark in 2010. 

Brian McCann Defensive Value Since 2010
Season Games Played at C Value
2010 136 20.4
2011 126 10.6
2012 114 10.4
2013 92 7.7

Fangraphs

On top of that, there are the residual effects of McCann's shoulder surgery. His best season throwing out would-be base stealers was 2010, when he caught them 30 percent of the time. Those numbers have dropped to 24 percent the last two years, which would have ranked 13th out of 15 catchers if he logged enough innings to qualify as an everyday player. 

If the Red Sox have reason to believe McCann's offensive output will get back to the level it was prior to the 2012 season, or believe he's good enough to stay behind the plate for the duration of a long-term contract, he would be a solid investment. 

Even if McCann's offensive numbers stay where they've been the last two years and he can stay behind the plate for the majority of a contract, his value would be high because the threshold for catching is so low. 

Via MLB Advanced Media

The Red Sox have been cognizant of how much money they spend and whom they spend it on. They gave Dustin Pedroia $100 million over the summer because they've known him since he was drafted in 2004. Even in years when injuries have cost him time, his performance hasn't suffered that much. 

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Pedroia's lowest OPS in a season was .787 in 2013, but he still got on base at a .372 clip and played most of the year with a torn ligament in his thumb that undoubtedly played a role in his lack of power. 

One advantage the Red Sox have is backup catcher David Ross, who played with McCann in Atlanta from 2009-12. He can give the team a scouting report on the kind of player and person his former teammate is. 

For all the positives McCann might bring to a clubhouse, an investment of this magnitude in a player whose numbers have dropped in recent years and doesn't figure to stick as a catcher for the duration of a contract isn't what the Red Sox need to do right now. 

I understand the need to find a starting catcher, but why not attempt to retain Saltalamacchia if that's the case? He's almost 15 months younger, is coming off a season with a career-high 54 extra-base hits and doesn't figure to cost as much in years or dollars. 

Like McCann, Saltalamacchia has had issues throwing base stealers out (23 percent) during his career. Where McCann's defensive metrics are declining, Saltalamacchia's continue to get better. 

Jarrod Saltalamacchia Defensive Value Since 2010
Season Games Played at C Value
2010 7 0.6
2011 101 4.7
2012 104 5.5
2013 119 7.3

Fangraphs

Is Saltalamacchia likely to duplicate his .273/338/.466 line from 2013 again? No, because a .372 batting average on balls in play isn't sustainable for a player with a 3-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but low-average, high-power, above-average defensive catchers still have incredible value. 

Just because the Red Sox didn't give Saltalamacchia a qualifying offer doesn't mean they won't negotiate with him or don't want him back. 

Cherington is too smart to make a foolish investment that provides some short-term gain over long-term stability. McCann will be worth three or four wins in 2013 and 2014, but that production is likely to drop in three years based on recent patterns in his performance. 

 

Note: All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference unless otherwise noted. 

If you want to talk baseball, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. 

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