November 28, 2018

The Braves Improve Depth with Donaldson, McCann Signings

The Braves made a couple of moves on Monday, signing Brian McCann to a one-year, $2 million deal and Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal.  McCann will share time with Tyler Flowers.  Josh Donaldson becomes the regular third baseman.

McCann had his worst big league season in 2018, playing in only 63 games and posting an 82 wRC+.  The only other season his wRC+ was under 93 was in 2012, when he posted a wRC+ of 87.  McCann will be 35 next season and looks like he’s in the twilight of his career.  But, just because McCann is 35 doesn’t necessarily mean we should assume he’s done after one bad season.  Prior to last season, McCann had posted three straight seasons of wRC+ over 102.

The Braves will not have to rely too heavily on McCann, at least in terms of games caught.  This will be the first year of McCann’s career in which he won’t be asked to serve as the primary catcher for his team.  However, they may rely heavily on his experience with the Houston Astros, perhaps the most analytically-driven organization in the history of the game, at least until very recently.  The Braves just hired Mike Fast from the Astros.  Fast pioneered catcher pitch-framing research.  McCann was a recipient of information gleaned from Fast and the rest of the Astros’ analytics department.  McCann had an on-field view of how analytics can help a team to a World Series Championship.  It’s hard to imagine a better advocate for players using analytics than a catcher coming from the Houston Astros.

Josh Donaldson, like McCann, is coming off a down season.  At 32, he played only 52 games in 2018 due to injury.  He posted a wRC+ of 117 after three straight seasons of wRC+ of at least 151.  Donaldson won the AL MVP in 2015 with Alex Anthopoulos’ Blue Jays.  There’s risk but Donaldson isn’t all that old, even for a ballplayer, and is not far removed from being one of the best players in the game.

Donaldson becomes the regular third baseman, though Johan Camargo had a good season with the Braves serving as the regular third baseman in 2018.  The Braves also have third base prospect Austin Riley knocking on the door to the majors.  But Camargo can play all over the infield and perhaps some outfield while Austin Riley has consistently posted strikeout rates well over 20% in every season of his minor league career.  With Donaldson’s injury history and Dansby Swanson yet to become the player the Braves hoped he’d become, Camargo should have plenty of opportunities to fill in at third and shortstop, along with opportunities at other positions.  With Donaldson’s deal being for one year, Riley can spend more time getting Triple-A seasoning or the Braves could try him in the corner outfield.

Unless someone offers up a very favorable trade, there’s no reason for the Braves to move Camargo or Riley.  Depth was an issue for the 2018 Braves but the Donaldson move helps the team’s depth for 2019.  The Braves are collecting as much talent as possible and will figure out playing time as the season goes along.



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