While they might not be the most urgent items on Theo Epstein’s shopping list, it’s evident that the Cubs are interested in finding a backup catcher and a veteran clubhouse presence. And as The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal wrote Tuesday (subscription), they “showed strong interest” in Brian McCann, who would have crossed off both items as sort of the second coming of David Ross.
McCann, 34, would have been an ideal fit – extremely likable, but edgy and demanding enough to draw the best out of his teammates. The Cubs need that kind of fire, perhaps even more than they did when Ross joined the team before the 2015 season.
The Cubs have talked to Ross about taking on a bigger role with the team and some rival execs believe he’s the frontrunner to succeed Joe Maddon, but that’s not the same as having more leadership on the roster. Ross was seen from the outside as a fun-loving elder statesman who played up his “Grandpa” nickname, but he was also a clubhouse enforcer.
Ross noted in his biography, Teammate, that Javy Baez has referred to the grizzled catcher as a “red ass” and said Ross could be very angry at times. But you saw how the guy was embraced — literally and figuratively — by the younger players on the roster despite coming to town as sort of Jon Lester’s personal caddie. And Ross admitted to CI in an exclusive interview that having that kind of presence can be a boon to a team.
Long removed from his salad days in Atlanta, McCann will turn 35 in February and isn’t expecting to play everyday. Nor is he being paid to, as evidenced by the one-year, $2 million deal he signed to return to the Braves. And while that’s surely a figure the Cubs would have been willing to match, McCann is an Athens native and felt the pull of home as his career winds down.
Finding another player who can provide the same sort of edge to spark the sense of urgency Theo Epstein has said was missing last season won’t be easy. Like Ross, McCann is a clear backup who didn’t need to be lured by a promise of playing time. Leaders like Adam Jones or Andrew McCutchen might not be interested in platoon duty or a minimal payday, unless the Cubs make subsequent moves to clear more space.
In any case, the moral of the story here is that the front office is indeed seeking augment the current core with difference-makers. And that doesn’t necessarily mean high-priced additions.
“We do feel like our answers are internal,” Jed Hoyer during the GM Meetings. “We need to focus on getting our players to maximize their potential. With that said, I think we’re open to business and listening and that will probably be our focus more than shopping at the top of the market.”