They used to call a coffin a Chicago overcoat. It might be time to call an off-season spending spree a New York Yankees rebuild. The Yankees kicked off what they hope will be a big offseason Saturday, by doling out a five-year, $85-million contract to free-agent catcher Brian McCann.

It’s the first shot of what will need to be a bombardment, if the Yankees (whose opponents outscored them last season, for the first time since 1992) intend to reemerge as viable contenders in the AL East. The Rays and Red Sox are far ahead of New York, and Baltimore and Toronto have stronger farm systems supporting similar, but younger, big-league rosters. Ownership needs to keep the wallet wide open, and GM Brian Cashman needs to stay aggressive.

McCann gives them a solid backstop. He’s no more than average, overall, as a defensive catcher, but he’s a solid hitter whose left-handed power (though not as voluminous as has been suggested) will play very nicely in Yankee Stadium, with its short right-field porch. Given that he can stay behind the plate for at least two or three years, that offensive profile makes him very valuable.

Was McCann worth the major investment the team has now made in him? Absolutely. We spend far too much time haggling over the precise salary level and contract length that makes a guy a good value. Lost in that sort of analysis are a few crucial truths about baseball today:

  1. Every team is now awash in money, such that it matters what is paid to players, and over what term, but matters much less than it has throughout the last 25 years.
  2. Good players are good players, and for all the talk that free agency is dead, there are still sometimes good players out there. Many of them get unfair derision for the deals they sign, which don’t actually affect them as players.
  3. A crucial skill for any GM is to be good at wooing free agents. Too often, free agency is viewed as an auction, where the highest bid always wins, and where the guys who look smartest at the end are the ones who made conservative bids, win or lose. In reality, landing a player like McCann is a coup. It helps a team to make additions like this one, even if it comes at a slightly bloated price. The boldness to overpay is a virtue. So is the ability to extract agreement from a guy who has two indistinguishable offers before him, or who might, if he waited you out, yet get a bigger offer than the one you lock him in on.

I’m not a Steinbrenner. I don’t care how well their money is spent. Brian McCann is, from a winning baseball perspective, a profitable use of a roster spot, even when paid $85 million over a half-decade. Spending a lot of time wondering how much value the Yankees will realize on that deal is an accountant’s job. As an analyst, I’m interested almost solely in the player himself, and McCann is a good player.

Is he enough to turn the Yankees into a winner right away? No. He will turn from a brilliant acquisition to a mild waste of money if no other big fish follow him into the boat. Still, the Yankees sent a signal that they’re done pinching pennies, and in so doing, also made themselves more likely to compete in 2014.

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