After acting like a mid-market penny-pinching outfit during recent offseasons, the New York Yankees have dipped their toes back into the major free-agent waters.
According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and WFAN, former Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann is on his way to the Bronx on a five-year, $85 million free-agent contract. The deal includes a no-trade clause and could be worth up to $100 million if an option year is picked up.
Over nine outstanding seasons for the Atlanta Braves, McCann posted prolific offensive numbers. He brings left-handed power, five Silver Slugger awards and a career .823 OPS to New York. To put that number in perspective, Yankees catchers combined to post a .587 OPS in 2013, per ESPN.
The signing, capping off a wild week on the hot stove, officially catapults the Yankees into buyer mode.
Due to the uncertainty around Alex Rodriguez's 211-game suspension, appeal and arbitration hearing, it was unclear when or how the Yankees would spend major dollars this winter.
McCann's arrival in the Bronx signals to baseball that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman has a plan, with or without Rodriguez, and is putting it into effect now. As the franchise attempts to stay under the $189 million luxury tax once again in 2014 in order to reap the tax reset benefits in 2015 and beyond, there's a limit on how much the Yankees can spend this winter.
Of course, Robinson Cano's next contract, which could range near $200 million, is another major concern for the franchise.
With McCann on board, due an average annual salary of $17 million, handing Cano a deal of around $23 million per year will bring the Yankees' winter spending to $40 million a year. If Rodriguez is cleared of all Biogenesis charges, over $73 million could be allocated to the 2014 Yankees payroll from the trio of McCann, Cano and Rodriguez.
When factoring in big-money contracts like CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter, that could make Brian Cashman's life difficult. If getting under $189 million remains the task, signing McCann now could become a burden later.
Yet knowing that, the Yankees pulled the trigger.
By adding a powerful left-handed bat to the middle of their order, the front office sent a clear and powerful signal to the rest of baseball. After a disappointing non-playoff season in 2013, the Yankees are planning to win big again in 2014.
According to Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York, McCann was wooed to the Bronx during a mid-week visit with the team. While bells, whistles and a night out in Manhattan are great, the $85-100 million commitment mattered much, much more.
By showing McCann the money, the Yankees secured one of the best power-hitting catchers in the history of the sport. Through McCann's first nine seasons, his .473 career slugging percentage ranks 11th in the history of catchers. Coincidentally, recently retired Yankee Jorge Posada is just above him on that list.
There was some concern that the Rodriguez saga would handcuff the Yankees during the offseason. If they had to wait on a verdict by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz, major free agents like McCann could have flown off the board.
On Saturday morning, Seth Everett of Fox Sports Radio joined me on WFAN in New York to talk about the offseason and Rodriguez's appeal. When the subject of Yankees spending came up, the baseball insider indicated that A-Rod's plight, from a strictly baseball perspective, could handcuff New York's spending.
While there is a chance the New York is eschewing years of work and preparing to blow past the $189 million luxury tax threshold, putting themselves in position to freely spend on Cano and other top free agents, the most likely scenario still has the team with a payroll of under $189 million in 2014.
Of course, as we just saw, it doesn't preclude Brian Cashman from spending on major free agents this winter. With the winter meetings approaching, the Yankees can now enter from a position of power, already having secured a major bat.
Free spending and aggressive spending are two separate and distinct things in the world of professional baseball. The inking of McCann shows that Brian Cashman is prepared to spend, in a big way, to improve the deficiencies of the roster.
Yet free spending and launching the payroll over $189 million doesn't seem to be in the cards for the 2014 Yankees.
In New York, where fans have come to expect a total financial commitment to winning from the Steinbrenner family, anything less than the highest payroll in the sport is considered somewhere between frugal and cheap. By re-signing Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda and Ichiro Suzuki last winter, the team made moves, but not enough to overshadow losses of key veterans like Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez.
Now, the winter is starting with an aggressive approach by the financial behemoth in New York.
With McCann slotted into the everyday lineup, the Yankees are a better baseball team. With his $85 million contract, the payroll is rising. Eventually, the team will be filled out, possibly with both Cano and Rodriguez in their customary spots.
It's premature to say the Yankees are the free-spending franchise of George Steinbrenner's heyday, but it's not too early to announce their return to the land of the major-market spenders. After watching the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers and Detroit Tigers afford major layouts for player salaries in recent years, the Yankees put themselves back into the mix for expensive free agents.
Are the Yankees back to their old ways?