Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Fleecing In The Bronx

P.T. Barnum once said "There's a sucker born every minute."

On Saturday, Brian McCann found his sucker in the Bronx.

The New York Yankees signed McCann, the former Atlanta Braves catcher who will be 30 by Opening Day, to a five-year, $85 million contract with a vesting option that would push the deal to $100 million, a full no-trade clause, and the keys to the corporate jet.

This is a bad contract for the Yankees and during Year 3 of the deal they will come to realize exactly why.

Yankees fans have been energized by this signing ... and it's not hard to understand why. Last season, Yankees catchers combined to hit a major-league worst .213 with 8 homers. To be kind, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Austin Romine and JR Murphy were nothing short of pathetic.

How bad was it? At one point, the Baseball Gods were considering renaming the Mendoza Line after Romine.

It was so bad that it rivals the ineptitude that has become UConn football. (Oops, my Huskies actually rallied to beat Temple 28-21 Saturday).

So in the short-term, McCann's signing is going to look good. Very good. Compared to last season, it's hard to imagine how it could not. Afterall, McCann has been a perennial All-Star who has hit at least 20 homers in seven of his eight full major-league seasons.

He is the best catcher in the game right now.

And he's about to enter the back end of his career, when that production is a lock to decline.

How do I know? Well, let's play one of Dave's favorite games. I'm going to present the statistics of four catchers, breaking it down by average production for seasons up to and including age 29, average production from 30 to 35, and production at age 36. Let's see if you can identify them.

Player A
Up To 29:  140 G | .333 BA | 85.2 R | 33.3 HR | 107.3 RBI | 6.2 WAR
30 To 35:  125 G | .294 BA | 70.7 R | 29.7 HR| 86.2 RBI | 3.0 WAR
Age 36 :  113 G | .251 BA | 41 R | 19 HR | 62 RBI | 0.1 WAR

Player B
Up To 29:  151.3 G | .268 BA | 82.4 R | 28.7 HR | 103.8 RBI | 6.0 WAR
30 To 35:  107.5 G | .265 BA | 44.5 R | 17.5 HR | 56.3 RBI | 2.6 WAR
Age 36:  Retired

Player C
Up to 29:  116.5 G | .285 BA | 68.5 R | 19 HR | 62.7 RBI | 4.8 WAR
30 To 35: 123.7 G | .279 BA | 68.5 R | 15.8 HR | 64.7 RBI | 3.5 WAR
Age 36:  102 G | .231 BA | 54 R | 21 HR | 43 RBI | 1.5 WAR

Player D
Up To 29:  116.2 G | .268 BA | 57.4 R | 17 HR | 65.2 RBI | 2.5 WAR
30 To 35:  141.8 G | .283 BA | 76.2 R | 22.2 HR | 89.2 RBI | 5.5 WAR
Age 36:  51 G | .268 BA | 18 R | 3 HR | 22 RBI | 0.2 WAR

OK, so Player A is Mike Piazza, B is Johnny Bench, C is Carlton Fisk, and D is Jorge Posada. What's interesting here is that Posada is the only one whose production and WAR actually improved in the 30 To 35 age range, and that likely is because of the four, he's the only one who did not play in at least 600 games before his age 30 season. Posada played in 581 games, Fisk 699, Piazza 840, and Bench 1,513.

Associated Press
Already, McCann has played in 1,150 games over eight full seasons. His average season is 138.1 G, .277 BA, 58 R, 22 HR, 82.6 RBI, 3.9 WAR. Excellent production for a catcher, decent production at any other power position, such as the corner outfield spots, corner infield spots or DH.

And a lot of time logged behind the plate.

If history is any indication, the punishment that McCann has taken while playing the most physically demanding position in the game is going to take its toll, likely sooner than later. Already there are some red flags.

Over the last three seasons, starting in 2011, McCann's WAR has been 2.7, 0.8, and 2.2 and he has played 128, 121 and 102 games. His best season came in 2008 when, in 145 games, he hit .301 with 32 homers, 68 runs, 87 RBI and a 5.5 WAR. He's been in decline since.

And if the Yankees think they'll be able to save McCann's body by giving him time at DH, just remember that they already are an old team with Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez (if he isn't suspended), Mark Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro and Vernon Wells. All will need at-bats in the DH spot.

Look, if the Yanks had signed McCann to a two-year deal -- three tops -- I could deal with it. It would would have given the Yanks what should be a decent bat while buying a little more time for Gabby Sanchez or Murphy or Romine to develop.

But with McCann in place for what looks like the next five or six years, these kids may not get an opportunity with the Yankees. The likelihood is that at some point they will be trade chips and allowed to develop elsewhere.

So instead of developing a young guy who could provide good production for a below market contract, we'll be stuck with aging star in decline.

And that's going be tough to take.

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