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Sunday Mail: McCann vs. Saltalamacchia, anti-tanking Celtics, and loser Incognito

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 10, 2013 11:54 AM

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Back from the postseason-induced hiatus, the Sunday Mail is delivered ...

LEADING OFF

All things being equal, I suppose Brian McCann would be an upgrade on Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate.

McCann is certainly the more accomplished player, a seven-time All-Star who has hit at least 18 homers in each of his eight full seasons, and more than 20 in seven of them. He doesn't throw particularly well -- he caught 24 percent of basestealers last season, matching his career average. But that's better than Saltalamacchia, who caught 21 percent this year and 23 percent in his career and isn't the accomplished pitch-framer McCann is reputed to be.

Thumbnail image for mccannbrian109finn.JPGAnd believe it or not, McCann, who turns 30 in February, is less than 14 months older than Saltalamacchia, his former prospect colleague in the Braves system a decade ago.

Standout offensive catchers tend to burn out in their early 30s as starters and fade into prolonged stints as journeyman backups -- a great example of this is McCann's No. 1 comp through age 29, Lance Parrish. But he should still have a couple of years left as top-notch starter.

So, yeah, all things being equal, he probably is a little bit of an upgrade on Saltalamacchia, all things being equal.

But that's the catch. Two significant aspects of this decision, if it does come down to Saltalamacchia and McCann, won't be equal. Length of contract. And salary.

When you start reading about the projected going-rate for McCann -- and it sounds like it'll be in the 5- to 7-year range, for $70 million to $100 million -- Saltalamacchia, whose price tag should be roughly half that, suddenly starts looking like the more appealing option.

Consider this: McCann's longstanding reputation as an excellent offensive catcher suggests he's a better hitter than Salty. Except lately, he hasn't been.

Saltalamacchia, who had 54 extra-base hits this year, including a club-record 40 doubles by a catcher, had the slightly higher OPS this season (.804 to .796) than McCann. A year ago, when McCann was playing through a shoulder injury, it was even more drastic (.742 to .698). And as reader Swamp Sox points out, McCann has tendency to fade after the All-Star break -- his highest batting average in the second half the past three seasons is .213.

Considering that McCann's best season was 2006 in terms of adjusted OPS and his second-best was '08, it's fair to wonder -- and even expect -- this trend to continue. Saltalamachhia is still improving -- his age-28 season was superior to Jason Varitek's age-27 in 1999, when he emerged as the Red Sox' starting catcher, and it matches up with many of Varitek's best seasons from his prime.

Sure, we've seen enough of Saltalamacchia to know he is flawed. He struggles against pitchers with 95-mph-plus heat. His swing is long. And despite achieving some memorable moments in the postseason -- he did deliver the winning hit in the pivotal Game 2 of the ALCS -- he lost his job in the World Series, a high-profile demotion that may impact his perception and value.

The team that signs Salty may be getting him at the perfect time. Knowing that all things are not equal, I hope it is the Red Sox, especially if the alternative is paying McCann far more than he's likely to be worth.

THE MAILBOX

I'm not sure if I agree with your take on the McCann incidents over the past year. People have fallen in love with the idea (or at least the terminology) that he's a self-appointed enforcer of the unwritten rules of baseball. I look at it like in each instance, he was coming to the defense of his pitcher, which IS his job. Not unlike the kind of thing Tek would have done, and would have been loved for.
-- John

Good point. Thoughtful point. Clear-eyed point. Thanks for screwing up my narrative, John. Have to admit, my perception of him changed after hearing how well-regarded he is by peers like David Ross. There seems to be some sort of uptight guardians-of-the-game thing going on with the Braves, but if respected people who know and played with McCann say he'd fit perfectly within the Red Sox' clubhouse culture, I'm going to believe them.

Danny Ainge says I'm not paying attention if I think the Celtics are tanking it this season. He's right about one thing. I'm not paying attention. Is anyone?
-- Brian

Let the record show I chose this question before last night's thriller over the Heat, which was so fun that it almost -- almost -- has me reconsidering whether they should be striving to go 3-79 while stockpiling ping-pong balls. Last night's win may go down as the highlight of the season, akin to the Celtics' win over the Bulls in Rick Pitino's debut, or it may be a win we look back on 50 games and 28 wins from now and say, "That's when we found out this team has some hope." I tend to think it's the former -- it's still a roster of mismatched parts, their best player, Jeff Green, is an enigma, the Jordan Crawford isos send me searching tearfully for Paul Pierce highlights on YouTube, and, you know, it really does behoove them to be lousy this year. But that doesn't mean they're not worth watching. They play hard, it's a fun exercise to figure out who will be here and in what role when they're a contender again, and there's also this: Brad Stevens is one hell of a coach.

Chad - Are the Patriots again quietly doing that thing where they slowly improve week to week without anyone noticing and then win the Super Bowl at 14-2?
-- Peyton M.

Twelve wins might be more like it, but it kind of feels like there's a plan coming together down there, doesn't it? The plan is certainly coming together on offense, with Gronk back and -- feel free to exhale -- looking like his pre-multiple-surgeries force-of-nature self. Danny Amendola is somehow playing effectively despite an injury that makes it seem as if the lower half of his body may detach from his torso at any moment. Aaron Dobson has the talent and is getting it, Stevan Ridley finally caught a deserved break from his coach, Shane Vereen is back after the bye ... suddenly, Tom Brady has quite a bit to work with. I do worry that we're approaching the tipping point on defense in terms of injuries. Rob Ninkovich is pretty close to irreplaceable -- more so than even Jerod Mayo -- and Aqib Talib is irreplaceable. If they can avoid any more attrition, they are going to be a contender, and maybe an under-the-radar one for once.

stantongiancarlofinn107.JPGThe other thing that's unfair about the Giancarlo Stanton/Adrian Gonzalez comparison is the physical stature of each. A-Gon doesn't look like an especially strong guy; he just had an inside-out lefty swing that everyone thought could replicate Wade Boggs. As a big righty in Fenway, Stanton is nothing like that. Manny Ramirez and Jim Rice are the more apt comparisons. It's hard to see a monster like Stanton having a power outage like Gonzalez did here.
-- John

Gonzalez lost some power with that shoulder injury, though he did have 17 homers before the All-Star break (and the fateful, ready-made excuse of the Home Run Derby) during his first season with the Sox. I actually wonder how generous the Monster would be to Stanton. Seems to me he tends to hit line shots more than the majestic, high-arcing homers like Papi often hits. May turn some of his homers into long singles. Sure would like to find out, though. I think it gets underestimated how much Stanton has accomplished at a young age. He turned 24 Friday. He's six months older than Jackie Bradley Jr. for heaven's sake.

Funny how Richie Incognito has never played in a playoff game. Not one snap. And Nebraska was awful when he was there, at best Alamo Bowl champs (oof!). And he's the leader that was supposed to toughen up Martin? And the Dolphins wonder why they're stuck in Bullets-land.
-- Fricosis Guy

That's just more evidence in an overwhelming case that the guy is an incurable loser, a bloated tick of a bully whose idea of humor is making others feel physical and emotional pain. If you're fortunate, most of those people fade from your life around ninth grade.

Saw your note the D&C were doing better. Any idea on the other shows at WEEI?
-- Mark

Yeah, not so great, which is one reason why I think D&C's numbers will be mostly sustainable beyond the boost they got from the Red Sox' run. From what I've been told, the October numbers looked like this:

T&R 11.4, D&C 8.8

Gresh and Zo 9.9, Mut and Lou 3.9

Felger and Mazz 13.3, Salk and Holley 7.7.

Salk and Holley had a 12.3 the last week of October, but that included some playoff baseball, I believe. D&C was just a 2 share back of T&R that last week. And Mut and Merloni made no headway on Gresh and Zo whatsoever.

I bet Mike Napoli would play without a shirt on if MLB allowed it.
-- Cecil

Yep, with a Marlboro hanging out of his mouth, a donut in his left pocket, a Bud Light in his right, and a Northeastern co-ed on each side. He could write a modern-day Ball Four on that weekend alone.

Until next Sunday, the mailbox is closed. Exit music, please:

Pretty sure Daryl Hall didn't have basketball in mind when he wrote this. John Oates, however, was thinking specifically of the 1976-77 Denver Nuggets and David Thompson's mad Michael Jordan Forefather open-court skills. That's how I choose to hear it, anyway.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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