Pick a side: Brian McCann vs. Terry Pendleton

Terry Pendleton says he knows why Brian McCann is scuffling, not hitting, returning something less to the New York Yankees than the $15 million they’re paying him.

Pendleton said McCann isn’t comfortable in New York and won’t be, and that McCann is from Georgia and prefers a city that sleeps eight hours a day.

Pendleton is the Braves’ hitting coach and McCann a former Brave, so maybe Pendleton knows something. McCann disagrees and says he loves New York, which is good for the rest of us. Because who doesn’t love a verbal sparring match between a Brave and a Yankee free agent bust-to-be?

Of course, let the record show that McCann is hitting .231 this year, or one point more than the .230 he hit under Pendleton’s tutelage in 2012.

“Going from Atlanta to New York is a different animal,” Pendleton told the New York Post. “Brian McCann is going to put more heat on himself and for him, trying to do more is the worst thing for him. I’ve learned that. … That money is hanging over his head. A lot of guys say, ‘I’ve got to live up to that,’ instead of, ‘They signed you to play your game.'”

Of course, Pendleton parlayed his comments in the same interview, saying, “I think he will become accustomed to (playing in New York). He has to relax and do what he’s capable of doing. He said he’s not a .220 hitter, and he’s right. He’s definitely better than he’s shown. He just has to settle down.”

One way or the other, Pendleton will be right. Either McCann can’t handle New York and will be a bust, or he’ll get used to it and produce. Nothing like taking both sides in the same interview — it’s a sure way to win the argument.

The truth is that it might not matter where McCann plays anymore — if Yankee Stadium isn’t a favorable environment for him, nothing is — and that it’s not as much about locale as it is about the one opponent not even Ted Williams could hit: age.

McCann has hit between 18 and 24 homers in every season since 2006 and is likely to again this year, but his average, which dipped to .270 in 2011, hasn’t been that high since. McCann had four straight years with an OPS above .800 from 2008-11, but it hasn’t been that high since, and he turned 30 in February.

Pendleton was his hitting coach the last two years in Atlanta, when McCann batted .230 and .256 and had an OPS of .699 in 2012, just 33 points better than this year’s; Pendleton didn’t mention anything about his hitter’s comfort then.

Pendleton said this week that some of McCann’s decline is because of his tendency to pull and the shifts defenses employ to combat that.

“(Defensive shifting) does affect him because last year he was getting (ticked) off because base hits were going right to the second baseman,” Pendleton told the Post. “I told him to hit the ball to left field, and he’d do it a couple of times, but he had it in his head he wanted to pull. … If you’ve got pull on your mind, it doesn’t matter how far the fences are back. He’s going to pull. That’s his mindset right now.”

Pendleton may be right, and McCann needs to look no farther than across his own clubhouse for confirmation of why that won’t work. Mark Teixeira was a .300 hitter three times in his career when the Yankees signed him, batted .292 in his first world championship Yankee season in 2009 and hasn’t hit better than .256 since with three infielders on the right side nearly every time he bats. (If it makes Yankees fans feel better, the Red Sox’s David Ortiz is also a victim of the shift, down to .256 this year after a .309 2013).

But McCann v. Pendleton is about more than the push of the defense and the pull of the batter. McCann has been a major-league catcher since he was 21 and has been behind the plate for 1,116 games, as of Tuesday night. That makes him 86th all-time in games caught, and third among active catchers, putting him at a position and an age when depreciation is likely (Trivia: Who are the two active catchers who have caught more games than McCann? Answer below).

And McCann acts even older. Last year he scolded Jose Fernandez and Carlos Gomez for not playing “the right way” as determined by McCann; if it was permitted, he’d catch from a rocking chair and tell opponents to “Get off my plate.”

So why then did the Yankees spend $75 million for a player who was an obvious candidate for decline? You shouldn’t need Terry Pendleton to answer that. For one, the Yankees batted Chris Stewart 341 times last year, and it will be a long time until McCann reaches that level of ineptitude, even if he tries to pull every pitch in every at-bat.

For another, they’re the Yankees, for whom overkill is their coat of arms. Why spend $8 million a year for a couple of years on Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Carlos Ruiz or Dioneer Navarro when you can spend twice as much for twice as long. There’s many a Third World country that should be happy the Yankees’ front office isn’t in charge of U.S. foreign policy.

The Yankees are comfortable spending money. That’s fine if you have it, and better if you spend it smartly.

After the Yankees missed the 2008 playoffs, they spent $440 million on free agents, or about $300 million less than they spent after they missed them last year. They won the 2009 World Series, which is more than their nearly half a billion spent will buy this year; they’ll need more than Brandon McCarthy just to make the playoffs. (Editor’s note: a previous version said the Yankees had spent $750 million this year)

But even after 2009, within two years the Yankees were paying the Pirates to rid themselves of Burnett. Last year Mark Teixiera, who still has two years left at $22.5 million, couldn’t play because of injury; now CC Sabathia, who has two years left, and maybe three, at $24 million, can’t pitch because of injury in a year he wasn’t very good when he could pitch.

That’s not even the worst of it. The Yankees forfeited a draft pick to the Angels for the right to pay Teixeira from 2009-2016.

The Angels used that draft pick in 2009 and took Mike Trout.

Long-term contracts, as both McCann and the Yankees should know, have long-term consequences.

The two active catchers who have caught more games than McCann are the Red Sox’s A.J. Pierzynski, 15th all-time with 1,742, and the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, 59th with 1,275.

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