The New York Yankees' signing of catcher Brian McCann sends a message that the other 29 Major League franchises do not necessarily want to hear.
The Yankees' oft-stated desire to get their payroll below the $189 million luxury-tax threshold notwithstanding, they are going to do what is necessary to regain Yankee-like status in 2014.
McCann signed on for major money -- a five-year, $85 million deal, which will become a six-year, $100 million deal if he remains healthy and a vesting option kicks in.
McCann, 29, may be the real prize of the free-agent class. He's a sound defensive catcher, a productive hitter, a fine handler of pitchers, a solid citizen and a terrific teammate. McCann has been a National League All-Star seven of the past eight years. The Atlanta Braves liked him a lot, but then the Yankees paid him a lot.
The Texas Rangers were also in pursuit of McCann, but when they traded for Prince Fielder and assumed $138 million of the $168 million remaining on his contract, Texas became a much less likely landing spot for McCann.
The Red Sox were also reportedly interested in McCann, which would make his signing by the Bronx Bombers all the happier from the Yankees' perspective.
In any case, contrast the Yankees' successful and relatively rapid pursuit of McCann with what happened to their catching situation a year ago. Russell Martin signed as a free agent with the Pirates for $17 million over two years. The Yankees never fully recovered from that loss, with their primary catchers being Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine.
The Pirates, on the other hand, found Martin to be extremely useful. One big difference between a losing season for the Pirates in 2012 and the first postseason qualifier Pittsburgh had in 21 years was Martin's help in slowing down the opposition running game. Opponents had frequently run almost unchecked against the Pirates in recent seasons. In 2013, against Martin, that was no longer the case.
The primary difference between Martin and McCann is that McCann is a far better hitter. His left-handed power will be ideal for Yankee Stadium, and on days he gets off from catching he could be a fine candidate to serve as a designated hitter. That is part of the reason why McCann commanded what is a truly big deal for a catcher. On a per-season basis, he will be the highest-paid catcher in baseball. Joe Mauer of the Twins makes $24 million per year, but he is being shifted to first base.
The McCann signing should be just the beginning for the Yankees. They have their own incumbent second baseman, Robinson Cano, to sign, and he will doubtless be the most expensive free-agent signing, the only question being how expensive. It is difficult to imagine another club prevailing in a bidding war with the Yankees over Cano's services.
And the Yankees are reported to be extremely interested in outfielder Carlos Beltran, who reached the World Series for the first time in his distinguished career last month as an employee of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beltran is 36 but he is not in the market for a long-term deal. The Cardinals demonstrated that, with periodic rest, Beltran can still be a productive player over the course of an entire season and postseason.
The Yankees still have plenty of questions with their pitching staff. But in the early days of this offseason, they have already made their mark and made their intentions known.
The signing of Brian McCann is truly a large deal, and not primarily because of the dollars involved, although those are plentiful.
This deal is a sign that the Yankees are not morphing into some sort of bastion of fiscal conservatism. It is also a sign that this is an organization that will not react with passivity to what was an alien experience for the Yankees -- watching the postseason on television at home.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less