In the midst of a 1-for-23 slump that has dropped his average to .227, Brian McCann is hurting. Over the weekend, the Atlanta Braves catcher reported that he has a cyst and a frayed labrum in his right shoulder. An MRI indicated a cyst is pressing against his shoulder joint, leading to discomfort, he added.
Not only could the injury impact the Braves’ post-season chances as they are 70-51, five games behind the Washington Nationals and three games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates in the wild card standings, but it could also McCann’s future with the team after this season.
In the off-season, Atlanta must decide whether they want to exercise a $12 million team option on the 28-year-old McCann or a $500,000 buyout. If he was 100 percent, the decision would likely be easy for the Braves. They would pick up the option and bring him back. Considering that he is battling injuries, and is is hitting .227 (though he does have 18 home runs and 57 RBI), Atlanta’s front office might contemplate other choices.
David Ross, the team’s 35-year-old backup catcher, is batting .263 with six home runs in 118 at-bats. Like McCann, he is proficient behind the plate. The Braves also have promising catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, 20, at Double-A Mississippi.
Still, when the off-season arrives, chances are the Braves will exercise McCann’s $12 million option, unless he has a more serious injury, such as a torn labrum.
Here are seven players who are important to their teams and will likely have their options pick up in the off-season:
Brian McCann, Braves
Since becoming Atlanta’s starting catcher in 2006, McCann has not eclipsed 20 home runs only once. That was in 2007, when he belted 18 home runs and knocked in 92. This season, even though he will finish with a career-low batting average, McCann is just two dingers away from 20, and he is still the Braves’ leader.
It would be a surprise if his option is not exercised, especially considering that Bethancourt is now out for the season with a fractured hand (suffered when he was hit by a pitch last week) and is more known for his defense than his bat. McCann is just entering him prime, and catchers who can produce at the plate and provide superb defense behind the dish are a rarity in Major League Baseball today.
Tim Hudson and Paul Maholm, Braves
Atlanta will likely part ways with Jair Jurrjens once the season ends, and Brandon Beachy is working his way back from Tommy John surgery, so picking up Hudson’s $9 million option and Maholm’s $6.5 million option appears likely. Kris Medlen has pitched well since joining the rotaiton, and Tommy Hanson is back after spending time on the DL.
Ben Sheets is a surprising success story and Mike Minor shows promise. Still, the 37-year-old Hudson has emerged as Atlanta’s staff ace with his 12-4 record and 3.59 ERA this season and since he was acquired from the Cubs before last month’s trade deadline, the 29-year-old Maholm is 2-1 with a 1.57 ERA in three starts.
The left-hander was 9-6 with a 3.74 ERA with the woeful Cubs. Hudson, though prone to injury like Sheets, is a reliable top of the rotation arm while Maholm is a durable left-hander. Since the Braves traded highly regarded pitcher Arodys Vizcaino to the Cubs in the deal, buying out Maholm’s contract without getting a full season from him would not make sense.
Robinson Cano and Curtis Granderson, Yankees
Sure, the Yankees ownership group says it wants to get close to or under the $189 million luxury tax threshold. Yes, the rhetoric from the Yankees organization indicates that the club wants to place a greater emphasis on developing players from their minor league system.
That said, they will not hesitate to pick up Cano’s $15 million option and Granderson’s $13 million option for 2013. Capitalizing on the new Yankee Stadium’s cozy right field porch, the left-handed hitting Granderson stroked 41 home runs last season and has 32 so far in 2012.
He is batting just .241, but his run production, speed and plus defense in center field makes him worth $13 million, especially considering Josh Hamilton of the Rangers could be in line for a $20 million-plus annual salary if he enters free agency in the off-season.
As for Cano, a former Yankees farmhand, he is a superb defensive second baseman and hits for power and average, having hit at least 25 home runs and ..302 the last four years. Cano at $15 million is a bargain when he place him next to Alex Rodriguez and his $29 million salary this year for a .276 average with 15 home runs and 44 RBI.
David Wright and R.A. Dickey, Mets
Perhaps the most prominent no-brainer decision this off-season is the Mets picking up Dickey’s $5 million option instead of implementing his $300,000 buyout. The 37-year-old right-hander who throws a dancing hard knuckleball and can bring a high 80s fast ball is 15-4 with a 2.89 ERA this season.
If the team trades left-hander Johan Santana in the off-season, it can still compose a decent rotation with Dickey, Jonathan Niese and two of the best starting pitching prospects in the game, Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. After an injury-plagued 2011 season, the 29-year-old Wright is batting .320 with 16 home runs and 75 RBI this year.
With Jose Reyes now in Miami, Wright is the face of the Mets and still in his prime. Exercising his $16 million option instead of a $1 million buyout makes as much sense for the Mets as bringing back Cano does for the Yankees.