• Exclusives

    Will Brian McCann remain a Brave after 2013?

    By Andrew Hirsh

    Braves All-Star, Brian McCann

    Brian McCann may be under contract with the Atlanta Braves for two more years, but his future with the organization beyond that time has recently been called into question.

    When Yadier Molina inked a five-year, $75 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals last week, he likely set the bar for future negotiations between the Atlanta’s catcher and team brass—and that is not good news for the Braves or their fans.

    Atlanta’s All-Star backstop is signed through the end of this season and has a club option for 2013, one that GM Frank Wren will undoubtedly pick up. However, once that option year concludes, McCann will likely hit the open market. And if that time comes, the Braves may find it difficult to retain him.

    Molina’s deal gives McCann quite a bit of leverage when future dialogue takes place between him and Wren. While McCann may not have the defensive skills of his Puerto Rican counterpart, he posts superior offensive production and hits for more power than any catcher in the game today. With a new precedent set, McCann has every reason to ask for more money than Molina.

    But the Braves have a tighter budget than the Cardinals, and it’s quite possible that Atlanta won’t have the means to offer McCann the money he desires.

    One thing the Braves do have going for them is the potential of a hometown discount: McCann grew up in Georgia and was a faithful Braves fan throughout his childhood. It’s possible—but not a given—that he would take a significant pay cut to remain in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.

    Christian Bethancourt

    Just how much money he’s willing to sacrifice, however, remains to be seen.

    In addition to limited funds, being a National League team may work against Atlanta in this situation.

    McCann is best suited for the American League, where he could remain a regular in the lineup without a strenuous regimen behind the plate. Putting his childhood allegiances aside, he would be likely be able to extend his career by several years in the AL as a designated hitter and earn more money in the process.

    But even if McCann is willing to make some financial concessions, the organization may decide to go in a different, less expensive direction.

    As always, the Braves are stacked with an abundance of minor league talent, and in that group there likely lies a serviceable replacement at the catcher position.

    Christian Bethancourt, a 20 year-old Panamanian with a rifle for a throwing arm, is considered by many to be the Braves top position prospect. He turned heads last year when he hit .306 with 5 homers in 72 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. And he appears to be on track to be MLB-ready at approximately the same time McCann’s contract expires.

    Evan Gattis

    Then there’s Evan Gattis. The 25-year-old spent several years away from baseball soul searching and battling drug addiction before the Braves drafted him in 2010. Gattis came seemingly out of nowhere to belt 22 homeruns in just 88 games, while hitting .322 for the single-A Rome Braves.

    If the Braves do choose to let McCann walk and save a lot of money, they could reinvest their funds into other areas that could put the team in a better position to succeed. While Mac is a fantastic athlete, he’s also a fairly pedestrian hitter when compared to other All-Stars throughout the league: He has never hit more than 25 home runs in a season, nor has he hit for a higher average than .301.

    If McCann does decide that he deserves a deal comparable to Molina’s, it may be in Atlanta’s best interest to spend $75 million or more in other ways. And while it would be difficult to see a hometown hero walk away, it may be what’s best for the team.

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