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McCann facing whole new ballgame in free agency

Braves' longtime catcher closes frustrating postseason with four-strikeout night

LOS ANGELES -- Brian McCann stood by his locker late Monday night, a Braves shirt on his shoulders, a Braves bat case and Braves duffel bag resting by his feet, stuffed with a Braves jersey and a pair of Braves cleats.

This is the only franchise that McCann, a Georgia native, has ever known. With Chipper Jones retired, McCann spent this season basking in his role as Mr. Brave, the local kid done good.

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But if his time in Atlanta came to a close Monday night, it did so amid profound disappointment. McCann struck out in each of his four plate appearances during the Braves' 4-3 National League Division Series Game 4 loss to the Dodgers, eliminating his team and thrusting his future in doubt.

"It's kind of hard to think about that right now," said McCann, who will become a free agent next month. "I'm just going to try to put it in the back of my mind, and whatever happens is what's going to happen."

Pressed on the possibility of playing elsewhere next season, McCann admitted that "there's definitely a chance. ... I'm just trying not to think about it."

All McCann could consider late Monday night was his four-strikeout performance against Clayton Kershaw and Brian Wilson, and the Braves' ensuing loss. McCann finished his postseason 0-for-13 with six whiffs, more than enough offensive misery to drown out any positive work behind the plate.

"I didn't see that coming," McCann said. "Every pitch I had to hit I fouled off, every pitch I was looking for he threw the opposite. It was just one of those nights. I haven't had too many of these, but it's frustrating."

Visibly distressed after the game, he struggled for words when asked about his future. The Braves' second-round Draft pick in 2002 out of Duluth, Ga., McCann cracked the Majors three years later and has been in Atlanta ever since. He represented the Braves in seven All-Star Games and won five Silver Slugger awards as their catcher.

But soon he will enter free agency, and the Braves, facing a tight financial situation, may no longer be able to afford him. A fair comparison for McCann's next contract could be the five-year, $75 million deal that Yadier Molina signed with the Cardinals last spring while already under contract.

With that in mind, big-market teams such as the Yankees, Phillies and Rangers are almost certain to make a run at McCann. The Blue Jays could enter the bidding as well. Simply put, elite offensive catchers do not hit the open market often, and McCann is nothing if not elite. This was the sixth straight year with at least 20 homers for McCann, who owns an .827 OPS over his eight full seasons in Atlanta.

Though injuries have plagued him in recent summers, his upside -- even at age 30 -- should tempt more than a few suitors. And the Braves, financially speaking, may not be able to compete.

McCann knows all that, even if he is not yet ready to consider it. The past few weeks have seen him worry only about the Braves, wanting so badly to win a postseason series. Stay or go, his inability to do so will become part of his legacy in Atlanta.

"My focus this whole time has been winning ballgames," McCann said. "That's all you can do at this level. You can't worry about your future. You've got to worry about your present."

Now, future and present have blended together. At some point over the next few weeks, McCann and agent B.B. Abbott will discuss his next moves, knowing that the open market looms. In the interim, McCann will return home to Georgia, still technically a Brave for a short while longer.

"It's definitely one of those things I've never been through," McCann said. "I've got two kids at home, so that's what I'll be doing."

Anthony DiComo is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDicomo.

Atlanta Braves, Brian McCann