Yankees sign Brian McCann, probably for more than he’s worth

Per various media reports, today the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a 5-year, $85 million contract, with a vesting option in year-6 that could propel the deal into the $100 million range.

McCann, 29, is coming off a productive 2013 campaign, where he hit .256/.336/.461 (122 wRC+) with 20 HRs in 402 plate appearances. He was arguably the hottest name on the free agent market, particularly when one factors in the scarcity of catching talent spread across baseball. To that end, $85 million, or $17 million average annual value (AAV), could be considered a bargain.

With that said, it’s not really a bargain. It’s actually a shitload of money, and not just in real-life terms; in baseball terms, too.

If the baseline for each Win Above Replacement is roughly $5.5 million, that means, over the lifetime of McCann’s contract, he will need to produce +15.45 WAR — let’s call it 15 — to justify the terms. (85/5.5.) Per season, that roughly translates to a 3-win player. (15/5.)

In his career up to this point, McCann has produced at least three wins 5 times, in 2006 (+4.3 fWAR), 2008 (+5.3 fWAR), 2009 (+4.0 fWAR), 2010 (+5.1 fWAR) and 2011 (+3.9 fWAR). The last two years — 2012 and 2013 — he has generated +1.7 and +2.7 wins, respectively. The Yankees are paying him to be better than that, and paying him to be better than that from his age-30 to age-34 seasons. That is why I don’t especially like this deal from their perspective.

In his 9-year big league career, McCann has performed as an extremely proficient offensive catcher, batting a collective .277/.350/.473 (117 wRC+) with 176 HRs in over 4,000 plate appearances. Dude is clearly a proven major league hitter. He has also been highly productive in the field — playing the most physically demanding position on the diamond — as he’s thrown out 31% of base runners attempting to steal (200 out of 642), and grades out at +91.7 better than league average in FanGraph’s defensive department.

Though, with all that said, he is about to enter his age-30 season, where production declines, and declines sharply for catchers. In his career, McCann has logged 8,820 innings behind the plate. Realistically, he probably has only 1-2 years of quality left as far as defense is concerned, which means he will either (a) have to become the Yankees’ DH, or (b) take over at 1st base, making Mark Teixeira the designated hitter. Teixeira is signed through 2016.

The thing about catching is this: If you can be a productive hitter, you hold an extreme amount of value. If you can’t field, you have to play a different position, and since 1st base and DH are the two positions where offense is expected, you really have to mash to set yourself apart from the fray. I know I’m saying “you,” but when I say “you” I really mean the general “you,” or, in this instance, the “you” that involves baseball players being paid millions of dollars to throw and hit a baseball.

For a premium position, paying $85 million over 5 years is not going to kill the Yankees. In fact, if Brian McCann can generate 4-5 wins apiece in his first couple years of the contract, New York can come out of this looking pretty damn good. The problem is, Brian McCann’s best seasons are already behind him. He used them between 2008 and 2011. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, although I don’t at all blame him for taking the first mammoth deal on the table, I do think he will have a hard time producing enough to justify this contract. If he was a few years younger, my stance would be different. But he’s a seasoned veteran, and 1B/DH are far too easy to find for how much money the Yankees will be paying him.

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