After a career-high 26 home runs and a career high-tying 94 RBIs last season, Yankees catcher Brian McCann won the American League’s Silver Slugger award as the top player at his position.
But McCann wasn’t satisfied with his .232 batting average. “I don’t like looking up there and seeing I’m hitting around .230,’’ he said Friday from Orlando, Florida, where he was participating in a charity golf tournament. “I’ve got to get better. I’d like to hit .300 with 30 [homers]. I’m searching. That’s my mindset.’’
A seven-time All-Star with the Braves, McCann has batted .232 in each of his first two years with the Yankees, who in 2013 signed him to a five-year deal worth a reported $85 million. In 2015, he hit .206 in July, .224 in August and .177 in September, when most of the Yankees’ bats went cold.
“I don’t know, I can’t put my finger on it,’’ McCann said of his and the team’s slump. “We just didn’t get it done. I know it’s kind of a short answer. We just didn’t get it done.’’
The lefthanded-hitting McCann, who turns 32 next month, has struggled against defensive shifts on the right side of the diamond. He said he has tried to hit the ball to the opposite field but that it didn’t produce the desired results. He has discussed the situation with Mark Teixeira, who faces a similar alignment and has been less inclined than McCann to hit the ball the other way. Said McCann, “I think Tex says it the best: walk more and hit for extra-base hits. The game today is about getting on base and driving runs in.’’
McCann said he also is adjusting to the increasing amount of cutters thrown by righthanded pitchers. “If you have a righthander and you have a cutter into lefties,’’ he said, “there’s a fine line with getting the [bat head] and not getting it.’’
McCann is excited about beginning spring training and handling an even stronger bullpen, starting with new arrival Aroldis Chapman, who already has been named the closer by Joe Girardi.
Chapman’s availability at the beginning of the season is uncertain; Major League Baseball is investigating an alleged incident of domestic abuse. “There’s a handful of players that dominate the game. He’s definitely right there with the top,’’ McCann said of Chapman. “You throw him in the bullpen with Andrew Miller and [Dellin] Betances. We’ve got three of the best pitchers in the game coming on late in the game.’’
McCann said Miller, the closer last season, will have no issues with Chapman assuming that role. “He’s a professional. He wants to win,’’ McCann said. “There’s no egos on this team. Everyone’s going to do what’s best for the team. Everyone’s going to do what the the manager says.’’
Regarding the Yankees’ sometimes maligned rotation, McCann said, “I really like the starting rotation. There’s a lot of good question marks. When [Nathan] Eovaldi started throwing a split finger, he became a different pitcher. He became dominant. We expect him to pick up where he left off. [Luis] Severino was able to get his feet wet last year and show [that he] belongs in the big leagues. CC got that knee brace, he was able to pitch to both sides of the plate and drive through it. [Ivan] Nova, you got [Michael] Pineda. Then you’ve got Bryan Mitchell.’’
And Masahiro Tanaka? “We’re anxious to see where he’s at,’’ McCann said. “I know he had a bone spur [surgically removed from his right elbow]. He expects to be a number one pitcher at the top of the rotation. He expects to be great, and that’s a great quality to have.’’
McCann will mentor a new backup catcher, as John Ryan Murphy was traded to the Twins for outfielder Aaron Hicks. Gary Sanchez and Austin Romine will compete for the spot and Sanchez, if he’s ready, is the preferred candidate.
“Sanchez has a huge upside,’’ McCann said. “His tools are off the chart. There’s nothing he can’t do on a baseball field. He’s got power to all fields, he’s got a cannon for an arm. We’re going to miss Murph a lot, but we got Aaron Hicks and you got to give up something to get something. We’re excited about Hicks jumping on board. I love where we’re at.’’