As expected, Brian McCann underwent surgery to repair damage to his right shoulder today. That wasn't unexpected, but the release also said that it would be six months before McCann is ready to resume baseball activities.
I'll be clear that I don't think this will have any bearing on the Braves' decision to pick up McCann's $12 million option. Catchers of McCann's standing are nearly impossible to find, and Mac is definitely a popular hometown figure.
But I'm certainly starting to ask myself if the Braves should be questioning the option (even if I don't think they will). Because now, it's not just that he's a risk to post a .700 OPS again next year. It's also that he might miss significant time. Recovery timelines for these sorts of surgeries are never set in stone, and a setback or two could mean he misses six weeks or more of the season. Not to mention the possibility that the rehab and surgery have done permanent damage to his swing or his hitting ability.
Christian Bethancourt is simply NOT an option for the Braves in 2013. He needs more time to learn and develop, and would be an absolute disaster in the major leagues. Evan Gattis is not going to be able to handle the defensive responsibilities of the position. But the Braves DO have David Ross, who has easily posted starter-caliber numbers in a backup role. I understand the Braves' hesitation to give him a starting gig for the first time in his career at age 36, but what if they paired him with a really strong partner behind the dish. Like, say, Kelly Shoppach. Or better yet, Geovany Soto, who is a non-tender candidate in Texas if Mike Napoli re-signs. (Ross has a mild platoon split, and Soto mashes lefties.)
If we assume the Braves are going to bring back Ross regardless of McCann's status, then the team could save significant money by replacing McCann at $12 million with someone like Shoppach at $5 million or so. A Ross and Shoppach (for instance) pairing wouldn't give the Braves the upside that McCann brings, but McCann's downside is also arguably more risky. Mac could give you an .850 OPS for most of the season or a .700 OPS while missing lots of time. A Ross/Shoppach pairing would almost certainly fall somewhere in the .750 to .800 range in OPS while creating a veteran bridge to Bethancourt's debut sometime in 2015 or so. Plus, it's not as if McCann couldn't re-sign at a lower salary after his option was declined.
It just seems to me that for a team that needs to maximize every dollar, and given the risk associated with McCann, that Ross is sort of wasted in a once-a-week role. I still completely think that McCann will be the Opening Day catcher, but I'm not nearly as convinced as I was even a month ago that McCann is the right choice for the role.