A park that's notoriously friendly to left-handed power hitters is now home to one of baseball's more notorious left-handed power hitters.
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The Yankees made the first big splash in the free agent market this offseason when they signed Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million contract. The contract includes a vesting option for a sixth year that could bring the total amount of the deal to $100 million.
It's a move that turns the Yankees' biggest weakness in 2013 into a strength. This past season, Yankees catchers hit .213/.289/.298 as a unit. The eight home runs the team received from its backstops was ahead of only shortstop in terms of production.
The 29-year-old McCann hit .256/.336/.461 with 20 home runs this year; his career .277/.350/.473 line is even more attractive. And the lefty moves from a neutral home park for left-handed hitters to one that ranked behind only the Rockies' Coors Field and the Orioles' Oriole Park at Camden Yards in terms of home runs. McCann has posted home run totals of 24 twice in his career, but it's not a stretch to think he can top that in his first year at Yankee Stadium.
McCann should also benefit from batting higher in the lineup in New York. With the Braves last season McCann predominantly batted fifth, finishing with 57 RBI. With Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson currently on the free agent market and Alex Rodriguez' eligibility for next season still uncertain, McCann could bat in the middle of a lineup that has the speedy Brett Gardner at the top. The Yankees lineup isn't nearly what it once was, but that may work in McCann's favor in affording him some more prime RBI opportunities.
The Braves aren't likely to move forward with Gerald Laird as their starting catcher, but they may not try to grab headlines by replacing McCann with another high-profile catcher. Prospect Christian Bethancourt made his major league debut in 2013 after hitting .277/.305/.436 at Double-A Mississippi, and the 22-year-old's time may be now with McCann departed.
Speaking of teams improving areas of weakness, the Cardinals made two moves recently to shore up two of the team's biggest problem areas in 2013.
On November 22 the Cardinals sent David Freese and Fernando Salas to the Angels for Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk. The move will allow the Cardinals to platoon Bourjos with Jon Jay in center field, a position at which the team struggled with Jay as the primary option. Bourjos' right-handed bat and above average range means he'll likely see at least half of the playing time at the position, and if he takes off with the bat -- he hit .274/.333/.377 and looked to be on the verge of a breakout season in 2013 before being hit with a wrist injury -- he could end up getting the lion's share of the work by season's end.
The team wasted little time filling another hole when, just a day later, it signed Jhonny Peralta to a four-year, $53 million contract. Peralta will play shortstop and supplant a duo of Pete Kozma and Daniel Descalso that combined to hit .222/.280/.303 while manning the position. Peralta, 31, had an up and down 2013 season, batting .303/.358/.457 before serving a 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis clinic.
The player with the most to gain from the recent moves is Kolten Wong. the team's 2011 first-round draft pick hit just .153/.194/.169 in 59 at-bats after receiving a late-season call-up, but he's proven to be a capable hitter in the minors and will get every shot to win the second base job in spring now that Matt Carpenter has been moved back to third base. The 23-year-old has ample speed, hits for average and possesses just enough pop to be a player worth keeping an eye on in March.
Twin (Dollar) Bills
The Twins are hoping Ricky Nolasco's 2013 season was a sign of things to come.
The team gave the 30-year-old a four-year contract worth $49 million in hopes he can repeat a season in which he won 13 games, posted a 3.70 ERA and had a 165/46 K/BB ratio in 199 1/3 innings. The deal is the largest the team has ever given to a free agent.
The right-hander is a perpetual underperformer according to his peripherals -- his fielding-independent pitching ERA, per Fangraphs, has been below 4.00 in every season since 2008 -- so the Twins may fare well with the signing. And Target Field is generally regarded as a pitcher-friendly park, adding to the idea that Nolasco could post numbers close to his performance this past season.
The Twins likely aren't done, either. The team is believed to be in on veterans Bronson Arroyo and Phil Hughes as well as it continues to try to improve a rotation that ranked second-to-last in ERA in 2013. Both homer-prone pitchers would be well served to call Target Field home.
Hot Stove Quick Hits: Now that McCann is under contract, the Yankees have turned their attention to Carlos Beltran. The switch-hitting outfielder would be another player who would benefit greatly from Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field ... speaking of Yankees targets, Robinson Cano's representatives have met with the Yankees in recent days. The 31-year-old doesn't seem to be close to finding a landing spot yet ... final bit of Yankees news: they re-signed Brendan Ryan to a two-year deal worth $5 million. Ryan will back up Derek Jeter and could see a fair amount of time as a late-game defensive replacement ... The Mets signed OF Chris Young to a one-year deal worth $7.5 million. Young and Juan Lagares will compete for the center field job in spring, and the winner of the competition could be a sneaky NL-only play next season ... a team will end up with the services of Nelson Cruz, but it likely won't be the Diamondbacks. The team has a strong anti-PED bent that makes it difficult to see any past PED users ending up in Arizona any time soon ... the Angels signed steady reliever Joe Smith to a three-year deal for $15.75 million. Steady is a word less often associated with Ernesto Frieri, so Smith could be in line for some save opportunities down the line should Frieri trip up ... the Rockies seem to be the biggest suitors for Justin Morneau ... both the Marlins and Mariners have some level of interest in Mike Napoli, but either team would have to pay a bit more to lure the 32-year-old away from a contender like the Red Sox ... a staring contest has frozen the market for free agent closers.
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