If free agency in Major League Baseball were craps, the Boston Red Sox would be the "hot shooter." A year ago, general manager Ben Cherington was on his way to adding Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross and Koji Uehara in free agency. Several of those players were instrumental, even indispensable, in bringing another World Series title to Boston. On the downside, even the contract for Dempster — $26 million over two years — isn't out of whack that much. There have been worse misses, and the Red Sox have made some. Not here.
So, it's on that kind of roll that Boston enters free agency 2013-14. It recently came across the wire that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was not given a qualifying offer by the Red Sox, which means he'll become a free agent with no compensation attached, which makes it more likely he'll be given offers that Boston will find unappetizing. It's also expected that the Atlanta Braves will give a qualifying offer to franchise catcher Brian McCann, but it's only to ensure they receive a draft pick as compensation. They are not expected to re-sign him (although that could change).
And those moves make the Red Sox players for McCann, one of the top talents at any position on the market. Reporter Brian McPherson of the Providence Journal writes that it's unlikely the Red Sox would go into the season with David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway (or a fellow named Dan Butler) at catcher, and the market other than McCann is weak, unless you're counting on a huge bounce-back season for Carlos Ruiz:
A seven-time National League All-Star, McCann has long been one of the premier backstops in baseball. He's hit at least 18 home runs in a season eight times. His lifetime on-base percentage is .350. He's seen an average of almost four pitches per plate appearance in the last four seasons. He gets high marks for pitch-framing. He's really good at blocking the plate.
(It's also worth noting that he worked with Ross in Atlanta for four seasons.)
McCann will turn 30 during spring training, meaning the Red Sox have to expect his production to decline at some point during a long-term deal -- especially if he remains behind the plate. But with David Ortiz about to turn 38, it's easy to imagine a scenario in which McCann catches full-time this season and maybe next season as well before transitioning into more of a regular designated hitter by 2015.
By which time younger catching prospects within the Red Sox system will be ready to flower. Or the Red Sox will be ready to pounce on some other free agent. Or a trade will happen. Who knows? But McCann to Fenway makes almost too much sense. It's like, "Where's the catch?"
Well, there was the report that McCann might cost $100 million, or about $20 million a year. Joe Mauer of the Twins makes $23 million a year. Buster Posey makes $18 million a year. Yadier Molina of the Cardinals makes $15 million a year. Not that money should scare off a team with moneybags stowed on duck boats like the Red Sox.
McCann brings much more offense than Salty and his overall defensive abilities are better than his reputation for simply throwing runners out. He's not a liability back there, by any means. Plus, he would seem to fit into the Red Sox clubhouse. It's probably a little wackier of an environment than he's used to — with Gomes, Napoli and Victorino — but it's not like a series of unprofessional beer and chicken orgies are happening anymore. And someone else is going to have to temper the rampant enthusiasm going around the National League in places like Los Angeles and Miami. However, as even rookie Jose Fernandez himself said, McCann's influence actually is appreciated outside of Atlanta. The Obstructor will be missed!
The Red Sox are expected to let outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury go. Drew and Napoli might leave too, but even if they stay, McCann would seem like a natural place for Boston to spend.
Brian McCann playing half of his games at Fenway Park is going to give a jolt to his numbers. The near (if tall) Green Monster beckons. More World championships beckon. Duck boats filled with money, beckon.
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