McCann’s time in Atlanta might be running out

ATLANTA — There was a time, not too long ago, when I thought Brian McCann would be the next face of the Atlanta Braves.

In my mind, he was the only candidate to replace Chipper Jones as the heart and soul of the franchise. He would be the guy in the commercials and doing the video announcements at Turner Field and spending his entire career in the familiar uniform.

Who would be a better choice? It seemed a perfect and logical succession from Jones to McCann.

He’s a native Georgian who was drafted and reared by his hometown team. He is laid back and a hard worker and is respected by his teammates, especially the pitchers, for his ability to call a game.

McCann has provided plenty of pop and circumstance in his seven-plus years with a tomahawk on his chest, going to six All-Star games and winning five Silver Slugger awards while becoming one of the best-hitting catchers of his generation.

No one else had those credentials. 

No one else fit the part.

Even Jones seemed ready to anoint McCann in spring training, after announcing that his career was done at the end of 2012.

“He’s going to solely be the face of this franchise, starting next year,” Jones told the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph before the season. “He’s a great kid. He’s a great ballplayer. He’s the kind of guy you’d want to build a ballclub around.”

Now, I’m not so sure. 

In fact, I’m not even 100 percent positive that McCann will be a member of the Braves next season, although the percentage still remains high that he will return in 2013.

We need to face the facts: McCann isn’t the hitter that he once was, and might never be again. He’ll be 29 in February, but he’s having his second straight sub-par year, with career-worst marks in batting average (.228) and RBI (58). 

He’s battling a bum right shoulder and intimated he might need offseason surgery. It has required a cortisone shot and some time on the bench in the past couple of weeks, but McCann is scheduled to return to the lineup Wednesday after sitting out the past two games.

Offensively, he’s done little to prove he belongs. McCann is hitting .208 with five home runs since the All-Star break.

Power? What power?

He hit half of his home runs in July and hasn’t hit a ball over an outfield wall since the final day of that month. McCann hit .181 with two RBI in August and went hitless in his only game this month.

He hasn’t even sniffed a double (or a triple, for that matter) in 35 days.

I once thought the Braves would face the dilemma of having to resign McCann for megabucks after the St. Louis Cardinals gave catcher Yadier Molina his huge deal, a five-year, $75 million extension earlier this season. 

McCann is making $11.5 million this year, a total that will rise to $12 million in 2013 if the club picks up its option. He could be a free agent or trade fodder this winter.

An American League team or three — say the Yankees or Rangers or Angels — with a stack of cash stashed under the mattress and a need for a left-handed hitting catcher/DH could have interest. 

The Braves most likely will try to fix his shoulder or oblique or his eyes or whatever else is bothering McCann and bring him back next year.

He continues to be a strong clubhouse presence. He’s jovial with his teammates, keeping them loose with his jokes and presence in the lineup. 

McCann also seems perplexed by his poor numbers this season and was hesitant to say too much when he talked about it last week.

His future with the Braves once seemed a lock.

Now it’s an open door of possibilities. He has gone from the next face of this franchise to the potential of wearing another uniform as early as next year.

We must face the reality: McCann’s time in Atlanta might soon be done.