Brian McCann is coming home.
The Duluth High product had hoped to return to the Atlanta Braves for the latter stages of his pro baseball career, which worked out Monday for the seven-time MLB All-Star catcher. Atlanta announced it agreed to a one-year, $2 million contract with McCann, bringing him closer to the community where he grew up and continues to live.
McCann and his wife Ashley, also a Duluth grad, live in Suwanee with their two children. Throughout his pro career, he has maintained a residence in Gwinnett, even purchasing a Lawrenceville home when he was young and single that he shared with fellow Braves prospect and Gwinnett native Jeff Francoeur and other young players in the organization.
The Braves drafted McCann in 2002 and he was in the majors with Atlanta from 2005-2013 before spending the past five seasons with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. The opportunity to rejoin his hometown team, a young and improving club that surprisingly reached the playoffs this year, was too good to pass up.
“I want to come back and I want to win a championship here and this team has a possibility to do that,” McCann said during his introductory press conference. “That’s why I’m here. I’m really looking forward to playing with Freddie Freeman to working with the pitching staff and with the young guys.
“It’s just a perfect fit all the way around. … When I got home (after the 2018 season) and sat down with my wife and my kids, we have both kids in school, so to be home for six months and not be on the road was one factor. Another factor was this organization and playing for Snit (manager Brian Snitker). Being home, this is where I grew up. I went to high school here. This was a no-brainer for me.”
Snitker, a longtime Gwinnett resident and coach in the Braves organization, has known McCann for years. It was Snitker who broke the news to McCann, when he was 21, that the Braves had called him up to the big leagues. He also was third-base coach throughout the catcher’s first tenure with the Braves.
He is impressed by Snitker’s work as a manager, and thinks his team is on the verge of even more success.
“I’ve been watching the Braves since the day I left, from when I was 14 to now, I’ve always kept up with how they’re doing,” McCann said. “To see where it’s at now, they’re knocking on the door for championships.”
McCann played his first nine seasons with the Braves, emerging as one of MLB’s top catchers. In addition to his all-star picks, he also is a six-time Silver Slugger Award winner as the league’s top hitting catcher.
He left the Braves for a five-year, $85 million contract with the Yankees, who traded him to the Astros before the 2017 season. The move worked out well for McCann, who earned a World Series ring in his first season in Houston.
The 34-year-old, limited by a knee injury and ensuing surgery in July, played in a career-low 63 games last season with the Astros, hitting seven home runs and driving in 23 runs. He has topped the 20-home run mark 10 times in his career, and Braves executive vice president and general manager Alex Anthopoulos expects improvements from McCann.
“We think there’s going to be an upside,” Anthopoulos said during Monday’s press conference.
McCann stressed that he is healthy entering the offseason, boosting hopes that 2019 will be better at the plate. He figures to be part of catching rotation with Tyler Flowers, filling the void left when Kurt Suzuki signed recently with the Washington Nationals.
The vast majority of McCann’s best offensive seasons came in a Braves No. 16 uniform, the same number he plans to wear this season. He already worked out a deal with current Brave Charlie Culberson to get No. 16.
“I’ll have to buy (Culberson) something nice,” McCann said. “I appreciate him giving it to me. Obviously, the number means a lot to me.”
McCann already has seen plenty of familiar faces throughout the Braves organization, not surprising since his time elsewhere was brief. One of his best friends with a different role from the past offered him well wishes via Twitter.
“Congrats to my boy b Mac,” said Francoeur, McCann’s former Braves teammate and now a broadcaster for the club. “Nothing like finishing your career in the atl. Who would have thought i would be calling your games someday. Better not strikeout … love ya pal.”