The 2011 season has already seen several significant injuries to superstar players, and yet another one took place this week when Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann
injured his oblique muscle and will be placed on the disabled list.
McCann suffered his injury in the tenth inning of Tuesday night's 19-inning marathon game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. While attempting to throw out stealing Pirates runner Neil Walker
, McCann made an errant toss and immediately pulled up to grab his lower back. He was replaced by backup catcher David Ross
, who remained in the game until its completion. Early speculation is that McCann will need to spend two to three weeks on the disabled list, but much more will be known after further medical evaluation.
The 27 year-old McCann has been one of the game's most elite and consistent backstops since joining the majors back in 2005, as evidenced by his .291 career batting mark and an average of 20 home runs per year since his first full season of 2006. He had his sixth all-star selection this season and is a centerpiece of the Atlanta Braves lineup as well as a capable defender and game caller, so losing him for any duration of time is a huge blow to the Braves and their pursuit of a National League playoff berth.
This year, McCann had 18 home runs and 55 RBI prior to his injury, putting him on pace to have one of his best seasons and surpass his career-high mark of 24 homers, which he set back in 2006. He was 2 of 5 with a pair of singles and a run scored before exiting Tuesday's game, giving him a .306 season batting average. Big league catchers usually suffer their share of injuries, but McCann has largely avoided the injury bug up to this point and has averaged 139 games per season since becoming Atlanta's everyday backstop. Braves management and coaches have been very careful about giving him regular days off, and their cautiousness has paid huge dividends up until now.
Ross, a ten-year major league veteran who has played with six different big league teams, will almost certainly fill in for McCann until his return from the DL, though the Braves will look to add another catcher to the roster. At age 34, Ross is on the downside of his career, but the Georgia native still provides some offensive punch and could post solid hitting numbers. His stats may pale in comparison to McCann's, but Ross cracked 21 home runs in just 90 games back in 2006 and has hit .284 with 13 home runs and a .382 on-base percentage in 372 plate appearances since joining the Braves in 2009.
For Atlanta, McCann's loss is yet another speed bump for a team that is struggling to put up runs and is reeling from disappointing campaigns by second baseman Dan Uggla
and outfielder Jason Heyward
, as well as the usual injury concerns with veteran infielder Chipper Jones
. With McCann's injury coming so close to the trading deadline, the club may be even more inclined to trade for a capable bat to keep their lineup afloat.
From a fantasy perspective, McCann's loss is humongous. No fantasy owner can really find a capable replacement for McCann, unless they're willing to trade for another top-tier catcher like Victor Martinez
(and this year even V-Mart has only managed 6 home runs to McCann's 18). No waiver wire pickup can match McCann's overall production, but home runs could possibly be found in players like Miguel Olivo
or J.P. Arencibia
, who have 14 and 15 homers this year, respectively. The smartest move for a McCann owner in a competitive league where no good catchers are sitting on the free agent wire may be to pick up David Ross and hope that the veteran can produce as well as a full-time player as he did in his backup role.
Overall, McCann's absence has massive implications in both real and fantasy baseball, and those who relied on his dependable contributions will just have to make due with what is available until he returns. Hopefully, that will come very soon.