New York Yankees catcher Brian McCann (34) gets ready before the start of the spring training exhibition game against the Miami Marlins at George M. Steinbrenner Field. (Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports)
TAMPA, Fla. — A seven-time all-star given a five-year $85 million contract as a free agent would be the center of attention with his new team.
Brian McCann, though, didn’t sign with just any team. He signed with the New York Yankees.
That means that the former Atlanta Braves catcher is almost flying under the radar as he adjusts to a new team, a new league and what is sure to be a different lifesytle away from the ballpark.
Derek Jeter will begin his 20th and final season when the Yankees open at Houston on Tuesday night and he has been the biggest story all spring. Right behind is the arrival of Japanese pitching sensation Masahiro Tanaka.
Tanaka’s deal dwarfed McCann’s and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury also cashed in more than the Duluth graduate. Right fielder Carlos Beltran also got free agent attention.
In fact, the only time McCann was really the story was when the Yankees played the Braves in two Grapefruit League games. It was an opportunity to see long-time friends and get some closure.
“I turned into a man in that organziation,” said McCann, a second-round draft choice by the Braves in 2002. “They taught me how to play the game of baseball and I’ll be forever in debt to them. I loved my time there.”
It came to an end, though, after nine seasons when the Braves made little effort to sign the 30-year-old left-handed hitter to a long-team contract. A catcher’s body takes a beating and the National League doesn’t have the designated hitter.
Leaving his long-time home wasn’t easy for McCann, but he made the best of an unwanted situation.
“I understand there’s a business side of everything,” he said. “I’m thankful to be in the spot I’m in. Great organization, great people. Not everybody gets to play in one spot their whole career.”
That’s what has made Jeter’s career so special and why he will be the top story with the Yankees all season.
McCann should feast on the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, but he actually may be asked to talk about Tanaka’s pitching as much as his own hitting.
Getting familiar with the Yankees pitching staff was McCann’s main assignment this spring.
He was 1-for-7 with a double in the two games against the Braves and finished Grapefruit League play batting just .200.
McCann wears No. 34 now instead of his Braves’ No. 16 — a retired number by the Yankees. Also gone is the beard, a victim of his new team’s ban on facial hair.
“I feel younger,” McCann said. “Got to like it I guess.”
The Yankees missed the playoffs last year and went on an offseason spending spree.
McCann’s deal has a vesting option for a sixth season and the $17 million annual salary is the richest ever for a free agent catcher.
The Yankees had a hole and McCann fills it. When Francisco Cervelli spells him, he can DH against right-handed pitchers.
“I’m not sure how it’s going to work, but I know I still have a lot of games left in me behind the plate,” said McCann, beset by injuries his last two seasons with the Braves.
McCann won the Silver Slugger as the National League top hitting catcher five times and was also noted for the way he handled pitchers.
“He’s an offensive and defensive catcher and there are only a few of those in baseball,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said.
The Braves will miss McCann and he will miss Atlanta. But there is no going back now.
“I’m excited to be where I’m at,” McCann said. “I’m excied for the new chapter in my life.”