By George A. King III
When the Yankees signed Brian McCann to a five-year, $85 million deal following the 2013 season, they quietly believed he was going to be the next Yankees stud catcher.
Thursday, they dealt McCann, who waived his no-trade clause, to the Astros for two low-level minor league pitchers. They also sent $11 million to Houston, which will be put toward the $34 million remaining on the seven-time All-Star’s contract which runs through 2018.
Now the Yankees have an extra $23 million to chase free agent Aroldis Chapman, who was dealt to the Cubs in July for a package led by shortstop prospect Gleyber Torres. From the moment that deal was completed Chapman talked about a possible return to The Bronx, where he wowed Yankee Stadium crowds with fastballs that reached 105 mph on the speed guns.
Several industry experts believe the 28-year-old Chapman could land a five-year deal in the $100 million neighborhood.
Thursday morning on WFAN, before the McCann trade was announced, general manager Brian Cashman said the amount of money the Yankees spend on free agents was tied to making a deal.
“I think it depends on how our trade discussions go. Our plan is to dip our toes in the water this year and we’d love to bring a Chapman back. He liked it here,’’ Cashman said.
Moving McCann means the Yankees are betting Gary Sanchez is ready to assume the full-time catching job after he dazzled for two months last season.
McCann said he struggled with the decision to waive the no-trade clause.
“I still want to catch 120 games,” he said by phone Thursday night. “At the end of the day, the role in New York was not that.
“I look at this as a perfect fit. It’s a team with a lot of young talent. I am happy to go there, but I will miss New York. But I want to catch every day.”
If McCann had stayed, he would have been the regular DH and caught twice a week. Now there’s a void at DH. The spot is open for a potential Carlos Beltran return or perhaps Aaron Judge serves as the DH against left-handed pitchers since on those occasions Aaron Hicks would man right field.
Austin Romine remains in position to be the backup catcher, though that could change.
“He signed in New York for a reason, but with Gary [Sanchez] kind of coming into play and being such an incredible player and deserving to be the everyday catcher there, Brian faced a tough choice,” McCann’s agent, B.B. Abbott, said. “This was not like demanding a trade or that Cash was saying they had to move him. This was an acknowledgment of mutual respect.
“We have had an ongoing dialogue with [the Yankees]. This came together over the last few days. It accomplishes a few things. It gives the Yankees some payroll flexibility, actually a lot of payroll flexibility, and now the ability to fill out the roster the way they want.
“What should not go unspoken here is that Brian Cashman not only took care of his organization, but took care of someone who was a real pro for him. [McCann] is extremely excited about being part of a young nucleus and a team with a chance to be very good. [The Astros] are not paying him $11.5 million to be a backup. He is going to be in an everyday function as either the DH or catcher.”
As for the two pitchers coming from the Astros, the Yankees continue to stock a system with youth.
“They are legitimate guys, legitimate arms,’’ said a talent evaluator familiar with the scouting reports on right-handers Albert Abreu, 21, and Jorge Guzman, 20. “Both are a ways away.’’
Guzman throws 95-97 mph and Abreu’s stuff is considered above average. Abreu pitched in Single-A this season, going 3-8 with a 3.72 ERA in 24 games (16 starts). Guzman, who started the season in the Gulf Coast League and moved to Short Season-A Greeneville, was 3-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 13 games (eight starts).