The big news in Bravesnation is that Atlanta has locked up Brian McCann for the next six years of his career for $27.8 million, with a $12 million club option for a seventh year. Now, the deal really only delays McCann’s free agency by a year, but given the way Brian has played, I think the Braves will be saving some in arbitration.
McCann’s 2006 hitting contribution was worth approximately $10.42 million. This doesn’t even take into account his defense at catcher which only adds to his value. Let’s just use his hitting value as a baseline and then you can lump on a little more (pick any number you like, I don’t care) for defense. Given the rate at which salaries have been rising, and even assuming a slight decline in his play from 2006 I estimate that he will generate a total of $83 million through 2012, when the guaranteed portion of his contract runs out. Now, $83 million – $27.8 million doesn’t make this a $55 million steal for the Braves. McCann’s MLB playing rights are owned by the Braves, which allows the team to play him considerably less than his true worth. They didn’t necessarily have to pay him this much to get that amount of value out of him.
McCann would have earned a little more than $400,000 in 2007 before heading into arbitration for the next four seasons. For 2007 he gets $1.5 million ($1 million signing bonus + $500,000 salary), which is more than the team would have otherwise paid McCann. In The Baseball Economist, I find that arbitration-eligible players tend to earn about 77% less than their value. Based on a simple projection of McCann through these years, the Braves could expect to pay him a total of $13 million just for his hitting. This is less than what his contract pays him for this time period ($16.3 million), but remember my numbers are leaving out his defensive value that, even by conservative estimates, will eclipse the amount he will be paid.
In the only guaranteed free agent year the Braves purchased, McCann ought to be worth $16.5 million on the open market. Even if McCann achieves all of the incentives to push his salary from $8.5 million to $11.5 million, the team still comes out ahead. I am even more intrigued with the option year that the club gets in the deal. If they chose, the team can keep McCann around in 2013 for a paltry $13.5 million, which is about $4 million less than what I estimate he’ll be worth on the open market.
This leads to another question. Why would McCann sign a contract that tilts so heavily in the Braves’ favor that I’ve yet to see anyone criticize this deal? Brian McCann is a rich man because he can play baseball. If an injury ever takes baseball away from him, he’ll be falling back on some skills that aren’t nearly as valuable. Especially for a catcher, I think it’s a good idea to get this kind of guaranteed money when you can. The Braves are happy because their revenue-generation options are much more diversified. This contract could end up being a bad one if McCann declines or gets hurt, but the team is bound to balance out the bad breaks with good breaks. It’s harder for McCann to insure against his potential loss.
I also wonder how this deal affects several other players in the organization.
Jeff Francoeur: Brian’s contract has put the focus on his good buddy. Rumor has it that Frenchy received a similar long-term offer from the Braves and thought it was worth half of what he wanted. I’m curious whether or not the Braves offered Francoeur more or less than McCann. While Jeff gets a lot more press, McCann is already a superior player and has the better potential to develop. Francoeur is the most popular player on the team, combining his hometown roots, charm, and good looks to garner more cheers at the ballpark than any other Brave. There’s a reason Delta chose him to be their new spokesmodel…I mean spokesman.
But over the long haul, McCann’s value ought to exceed Francoeur’s. Fans will begin to notice more good things from McCann than Francoeur, and they will forget about “the natural.” The Braves are right to play hardball here. If he wants a bigger deal, then he needs to step up beyond the hype. And if he does so, the Braves will gladly up their offer. I also worry about how the McCann-Francoeur relationship. Paying either one of these guys more than the other may cause some bad feelings. Most competitive people are competitive in everything.
John Smoltz: Speaking of competitive personalities, let’s talk about the club’s senior player. The McCann deal should be a cost-saver, so that gives the Braves more money to sign one of their top two free agents. The Braves are in a situation where they almost have to sign Smoltz. There is little starting pitching help coming up from the minors to take over, so no matter what the Braves will have to sign a free agent pitcher next year. Most people feel Smoltz will stick around, but I don’t know. He saw his good buddies Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux leave for big deals, and I can see that eat at him. Plus, with his divorce and recent confrontation with Schuerholz, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just thought a change of scenery would be a good thing. My gut tells me he goes, even though this deal ought to give the Braves more wiggle room and the team will want him back.
Andruw Jones: The other big free agent on the Braves is someone most think is a goner. Like I said with Smoltz, the McCann deal frees up money. Andruw may talk big, but he loves playing for the Braves and Bobby Cox. He’s not going to sign for cheap, but I think he may be willing to take less from the Braves than from other teams. And if Francoeur doesn’t progress much this year, Schuerholz may feel he needs to keep some pop in the outfield.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia: The prized catching prospect appears to be blocked with McCann entrenched behind the plate. I think it’s too early for the Braves to do anything. His stock is low right now after a rough Double-A season. He’s young and in no rush to get to the big leagues. I see the Braves keeping him at catcher until he’s hitting call-up numbers in Triple-A. Then a decision needs to be made on a trade or position switch. And who knows, if McCann goes down it’s nice to have a back-up plan.