With the emergence of Gary Sanchez in 2016, the Yankees have made it clear he will enter 2017 as the team’s starting catcher, but that doesn’t mean the incumbent Brian McCann is out of a job.
Speaking with George King III of the New York Post, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman confirmed that McCann — despite being in trade rumors since the trade deadline in July — is in the Yankees’ plans for 2017.
“Sanchez is the everyday catcher,” Cashman said. “[McCann] can DH and catch a minimum of two games a week. We have two power-hitting catchers, one right and one left who hit 20 homers.”
Sanchez, who entered the year as New York’s No. 2 rated prospect by Baseball America, begun producing at a historical rate the final two months of the year. In 53 games, he posted a.299/.376/.657 slash line with 20 homers, 42 runs batted in and a 1.032 OPS (171 wRC+). In the process, Sanchez became the fastest player in MLB history to reach 19 career HRs with a solo shot on September 21 against the Tampa Bay Rays; six days later, he tied Wally Berger of the 1930 Boston Braves for fastest to 20 HRs.
Defensively, Sanchez was an upgrade, too. He threw out 41 percent of potential base stealers, showing off a cannon arm with a quick release. Despite playing just 53 games, Sanchez’s prolific hitting has put him in the discussion for American League Rookie of the Year.
As for McCann, the 33-year-old enjoyed another characteristically strong season. He slashed.242/.335/.413 with 20 HRs and 58 RBIs in 130 games (103 wRC+). It was McCann’s ninth consecutive season with at least 20 homers and 57 RBIs. However, the seven-time All-Star’s offensive prowess saw a decline in 2016.
While McCann’s walk rate (11.0 percent) was his highest since the 2010 season, his strikeout rate (20.1 percent) was the highest of his career. All of this while watching Sanchez’s emergence and learning by mid-August he was no longer the Yankees’ primary backstop.
“Listen,” McCann said in August about Sanchez’s production (via NY Post). “It’s a time where he’s gonna play, and he’s gonna play a lot. He’s a future All-Star, year in and year out. There’s not many guys walking around with his talent. It’s gonna be nice to see him grow into that player. … I consider him one of the better, if not best, young catchers since I’ve been in the big leagues.”
With Alex Rodriguez’s release, McCann received a lot of time as designated hitter, but his heart was still behind the plate.
It was clear that the veteran was trying to remain professional — and obviously upset that he was for all intents and purposes being replaced. After signing a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees prior to the 2014 campaign, the longtime Atlanta Braves slugger was expecting to be New York’s primary receiver for the next half decade.
There are rumors that the Braves are interested in a reunion. MLB.com’s Mark Bowman reported last month that the Yankees asked for hard-throwing right-hander Mike Foltynewicz or talented outfielder Ender Inciarte in a potential trade. However, Atlanta has no interest in parting with either player.
While McCann, a local product from Athens, Georgia, is a fan-favorite in Atlanta, that’s a steep price to pay for an aging catcher.
The Braves can upgrade at catcher — where they primarily used A.J. Pierzynski and Tyler Flowers in 2o16 — through free agency. Wilson Ramos, who tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament (ACL) in the final week of 2016 will be a buy-low candidate — despite hitting.307 with 22 HRs and 80 RBIs for the Washington Nationals and widely viewed as the top catcher in free agency. Switch-hitter Matt Wieters is another potential target in free agency.
The Post previously mentioned the Houston Astros and Nationals as potential fits for McCann. But with two years, $36 million left on the deal, the Yankees may have a hard time receiving equal value in a trade. So until something does come up, McCann is entering the offseason with the intention of joining the Yankees in Spring Training.
“If we need to address something from the Yankees, they will let us know,” McCann’s agent, BB Abbott, told King via email. “Until then, we are allowing the club the space to run and build their club.”
[Featured Image by Elsa/Getty Images]