Looking at McCann’s immediate future in Atlanta
Minutes after it was learned there is a good chance Brian McCann will not be ready for the start of the 2013 season, the most popular question became “will the Braves exercise McCann’s $12 million option for the 2013 season?”
While it is a valid question, it is far too soon to provide a definitive answer.
If forced to guess at this moment, I would guess that McCann will be back with the Braves next year. But this is an assumption being made without knowledge all of the medical and financial information that general manager Frank Wren could continue to gather over the next few days.
All indications are that McCann will make a full recovery from right shoulder surgery he underwent on Tuesday afternoon. In four months, which be around the start of Spring Training, he will begin hitting off of a tee and performing other “light” baseball activities. In six months, which would be approximately two weeks after Opening Day, he could be cleared to begin full baseball activities.
In other words, there is certainly a chance that McCann could miss most, if not all of the season’s first month.
If Wren was guaranteed that McCann would return and be the offensive force he was before he returned too early from an oblique strain in 2011, then it would seemingly be an easy decision to exercise this option. McCann hit .291 with a .361 on-base percentage and .492 slugging percentage in the 845 games he played before the oblique strain.
While hitting .219 with a .298 on-base percentage and .386 slugging percentage over the 158 games he has played since the oblique strain, McCann has undoubtedly been burdened by injuries. His right shoulder proved to be a problem this year whenever he extended to hit an outside pitch or found himself in front of an offspeed pitch.
Though it was admirable that McCann was determined to continue playing through this shoulder discomfort, his dedication does not guarantee the Braves will exercise this option. They have until three days after the end of the World Series to decide.
You would have to expect the Braves will gather all of the necessary information and approach McCann about the possibility of returning for something less than $12 million next year. And at this point, you can guarantee that McCann will say, “Not a chance.”
It’s all just part of the song and dance.
McCann’s perspective is that he will be able to find some teams willing to pay him $12 million with the confidence that his surgically-repaired shoulder will allow him to regain his status as the game’s premier offensive catcher.
Still this is an avenue the Braves will have to explore. In the end, they could end up exercising the $12 million option. But before doing so, they must evaluate all other options.
Playing into that evaluation should be the fact that McCann should be even more motivated this winter as he rehabs and conditions for the season that will lead him to the free agent market for the first time in his career. Given that he will be 30 by the start of the 2014 season, he is likely looking to gain his last “big contract” next winter.
Even before McCann’s shoulder became an issue this year, it has been assumed that he would not play in Atlanta beyond the end of the 2013 season. With age no longer on his side, there has been some thought that it might be in his best interest to spend the next few years as a catcher/designated hitter for an American League club.
McCann’s exit from Atlanta could also be influenced by the arrival of highly-regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt, who appears to be Major League-ready from a defensive perspective. Bethancourt’s development was halted when he broke his left hand while playing for Double-A Mississippi on Aug. 9.
But it appears Bethancourt is now ready to begin playing again. He tweeted Wednesday morning that he was preparing to play three innings in an Instructional League game that will be played in front of Wren, manager Fredi Gonzalez and all of the Braves’ top scouts, who are at Disney this week for their annual offseason planning session.
If all goes well, Bethancourt will spend some time over the next couple of months playing in the Dominican Winter League. The strong-armed 21-year-old catcher likely needs another year of development from an offensive perspective. But his presence could certainly influence the Braves as they continue to evaluate McCann’s future.
The Braves are expected to re-sign David Ross, who could serve as the team’s starting catcher until McCann is deemed ready. This might require the team to sign a catcher who would serve as a backup in Atlanta for a month and then spend much of the remainder of the year with Triple-A Gwinnett.
If the Braves do not bring McCann back, they would suddenly find themselves in the market to find a starting catcher. At 36, Ross will continue to be best utilized in a backup role.
As for thoughts of Bethancourt beginning the year as Atlanta’s starting catcher, it seems like he could use some more time. But we were saying similar things about Andrelton Simmons around this time last year.
So like I said at the top of this entry, it is still too early to provide a definitive answer about McCann’s immediate future in Atlanta.