The 33-year-old McCann, and Gattis, 30, are two of the oldest players on one of baseball’s most dynamic and well-balanced teams.
“We’ve got young, athletic guys, some really talented players,” McCann said. “It’s amazing watching these guys on a nightly basis.”
It’s a group that includes the likes of 22-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa, 23-year-old third baseman Alex Bregman, 24-year-old center fielder George Springer and 27-year-old superstar second baseman Jose Altuve.
“It’s a great mix,” McCann said. “We’ve got a great team.”
The Braves traded Texas native Gattis to the Astros in January 2015 for three prospects: right-handers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman and third baseman Rio Ruiz.
McCann signed a five-year, $85 million contract — the largest ever for a catcher — in November 2013 with the Yankees. He spent three productive seasons in New York, averaging 23 home runs and winning a sixth Silver Slugger award in 2015, before he was traded to the Astros in November for two minor league pitchers. The Yankees are also paying $5.5 million of his $17 million salary both this season and in 2018.
There’s a $15 million option on McCann’s contract for 2019 that vests if he totals 1,000 plate appearances during 2017-18 and catches 90 games in 2018.
“I’m just glad it happened,” Gattis said of the trade that brought McCann to Houston. “I don’t think there would be a better duo, man. Pretty fun handling a (pitching) staff this year.”
The Astros used Gattis as a left fielder and DH in his first season with Houston in 2015, then moved him back to catch 55 games in 2016 in addition to DH’ing in 71 games. He’s catching about one-third of their games again this season and learning plenty again from one of the players he respects most in the game.
“I remember asking (former Braves pitcher coach Roger) McDowell, who’s the best one you’ve seen at reading swings and stuff like that,” Gattis said. “And he said, ‘McCann.’ I always put a lot of weight into what Roger said, so ever since then it’s been, like, pay attention to what Mac’s doing when he’s catching. …
“When I came the first year I didn’t know what my role would be and I don’t know that they knew exactly how they wanted to use me. We had (catchers) Hank (Conger) and Jason (Castro); they decided to DH me that year most of the time, and a little bit of left field. I was happy to be back there (catching last year and it’s been going good.”
The only minor problem, and it’s actually more amusing than a problem: Identity confusion. McCann has a full beard now and bears a striking resemblance to the bear himself, Gattis, whose nickname is “El Oso Blanco” (The White Bear). So much so that each of them is asked for autographs by fans who think it’s the other player.
“Whenever I go out to catch I have people yell, ‘Gattis!’” McCann said, smiling.