Multiple reports have the Mets signing free agent catcher James McCann to a 4/$40+ contract. McCann becomes the third or fourth big free agent acquisition, depending on how you want to slice either “big” or “free agent.” McCann joins Trevor May, Sam McWilliams and Marcus Stroman.

The big news is that the Mets opted for McCann over the more-heralded catcher available in free agency, that being J.T. Realmuto. The speculation was that Realmuto was looking for a deal to surpass both Joe Mauer (8/$184) and Buster Posey (9/$167) and the Mets clearly had no interest – nor should they – to sign a catcher to a deal of that length.

But what are they getting in McCann?

The idea that McCann would be an attractive free agent signing would have been laughable just a few years ago. At the conclusion of the 2018 season, McCann had a career 76 OPS+ and no one thought much of him as a defensive backstop, either. The main thing he had going for him was that he hit LHP pretty well. Or at least he did from 2015-2017. In those three seasons, twice he had an OPS over .900 against lefties and the other year it was a strong .848 against southpaws. But he had just a .514 OPS against portsiders in 2018.

But everything came together for him offensively in 2019. McCann posted a career-high .789 OPS in 476 PA, also a personal-best mark in the majors. But defensively was another story. According to Baseball Prospectus, McCann was ranked 107th out of 113 catchers in its Fielding Runs Above Average metric, with a (-10.2) mark. For a comparison, Wilson Ramos was rated (-6.7) FRAA. Most of McCann’s lousiness was due to being awful at framing pitches, where BP had him rated as (-8) runs.

FanGraphs’ framing numbers said the same thing, as it had McCann at (-9) in 2019. Statcast was even harsher, ranking him dead last with a (-15) Runs Extra Strikes.

McCann worked in the offseason with Jerry Narron, a former big league catcher and renowned “catcher whisperer.” Narron was so respected that Martin Maldonado sent him his 2017 Gold Glove Award to acknowledge the work that Narron did with him to improve his defense.

James Fegan of The Athletic wrote a piece on McCann working with Narron and had the following quote about framing:

“There’s no question you can adjust to it,” Narron said. “The biggest thing about the framing of a pitch is you’ve got to beat the ball to the spot. If you don’t, the ball is going to carry the glove away from the zone, and you want to be carrying the ball into the zone with your glove. You can only do that if you beat the ball to the spot. You can’t be there at the same time or be late, or it’s going to take you out of the zone. And the other thing is on the low pitch is you’ve got to get underneath that ball. You can’t get on top of it, or you’re going to take it out of the zone.”

In the same piece, Fegan has this quote from McCann:

“Up to this point in my career I’ve never really had anyone who was able to explain to me why the scoring worked the way that it did as far as the framing metrics go and how to improve,” McCann said. “I’ll definitely be monitoring it closer than I ever have. It’s something that I’ll stay up to date with. I’ll be in contact with Jerry throughout the year and just continuing to pick his brain and whatever wisdom he can pass on to me.”

So, how did it turn out? FanGraphs had McCann at +2.3 in framing in the shortened 2020 season and Statcast had him tied for sixth with a +2 mark.

And McCann even improved his offense in 2020, posting an .896 OPS in 111 PA. The big improvement with McCann offensively the past two years was his performance against RHP, particularly in slugging. In 361 PA the past two seasons against righties, McCann has a .262/.310/.449. From 2014-18 versus RHP, McCann had a .357 SLG in 1,013 ABs. It all equaled a 1.5 fWAR in 2020, the seventh-best mark among catchers with at least 100 PA. Perhaps most impressively, it put McCann just 0.2 behind Realmuto, despite having 84 fewer PA.

But McCann benefited from a time share with Yasmani Grandal, who had 271.1 innings at catcher, compared to 245.2 for McCann. What happens when McCann has to log four times that many innings in a season? Can his bat and glove hold up with the extra work load?

The Mets are betting he can.

14 comments on “Mets to sign free agent catcher James McCann

  • Mike W

    I am happy about the deal. Like the fact that it is 40 million rather than 125 plus million for Realmuto. I think Realmuto is overrated. Gives Alvarez a chance to develop.

    You are really fast. I just saw a out the signing and you had already posted this article.

    Thank you.

    • Rob

      I wouldnt say JTR is overated its just that catching overall in MLB is so weak. If you put him in the league anywhere from 10 to 20 years ago he would be average.

      • Brian Joura

        From 2017-2019, JTR had an fWAR from 4.4-5.7 and I don’t think there’s any time in MLB history where 12-15 catchers were so good that JTR of recent vintage would be average.

        2010 – 3 catchers with a 4.4 or greater fWAR
        2000 – 4 catchers
        1990 – 3 catchers
        1980 – 2 catchers
        1970 – 4 catchers
        1960 – 0 catchers
        1950 – 3 catchers

        In 2011, there were 8 catchers and that’s the most I’ve seen in a quick skim of the numbers. And that’s using JTR’s low number as the cutoff

  • Jim OMalley

    Good move; a major box checked off the off-season to-do list.

    Now hopefully the NL can approve the DH for 2021. That would resolve the Smith-Alonso situation.

  • MattyMets

    Thanks for getting this up so quickly, Brian. The comments on MetsBlog are too ignorant for words. I’m pleased with this signing. Of course Realmuto is better and he’s who I originally wanted, but if there’s truth to the two things I’ve read about him – 1) he wants 6/150 or possibly more and 2) he’s “not keen” on the Mets, than we did the right thing by pivoting. As I’ve said for a while now, Realmuto may be regarded as the best catcher in baseball, but that’s by default since Molina and Posey are past their prime and another star hasn’t emerged yet. JTR is very good, but he’s not on a HOF track. Even if he winds up settling for something like 5/110, I still think that’s too much for a team that has other needs to address. I would love to find out that McCann’s 4th year is a team option, but even if that’s not the case, this is a reasonable contract and he’ll be an upgrade over Ramos – as good offensively and significantly better defensively.

    Hard to really judge this move until we see how much Realmuto gets and what else the Mets do. If my assumption is correct, that he gets a 9-figure deal and the Mets also bring in Springer and a quality SP, then this was the right move without question.

  • Edwin e Pena

    Good move at a good price that allows the Metropolitans to go get Springer, possibly even Bauer, maybe even add another SP or BP piece like Brad Hand. It’s another lefty bat however, so Mets need Springer to balance the lineup some. JTR’s high price $20M+ for a catcher already 30 is a tough swallow. Good luck to him. His price may go down more if Phillies and Jays don’t bite. Hope he goes to the Angels and far away from NL East
    Good player, but not for $20M+ when you can get an adequate replacement for $10M. I didn’t say better or as good, I say adequate for the Met’s needs. Go Uncle Stevie, goooo !

    • Brian Joura

      James McCann is a RHB with a lifetime .834 OPS against LHP

  • HOF19

    I agree with this >>>>>>>>Keeping Up With The Mets
    Replying to
    This gives the Mets a great opportunity to sign Bauer and Springer as well.

  • TexasGusCC

    The winners in this deal are the Angels. If they and the Mets were the only two teams in the top catcher market and one team is now going away with the #2 catcher, that means the #1 catcher just lost a lot of leverage. Now, a stupid team like the Padres could jump up and outbid themselves like they did with Hosmer, but if sanity prevails the Angels are going to get a very sensible – maybe even a good – deal.

    Can’t blame Alderson fior taking a good deal and not allowing his chain to be jerked by Boras.

    • Brian Joura

      I wouldn’t count the Phillies out as a potential landing spot, either.

      • Remember1969

        or the Nats

  • Metsense

    The Mets needed an upgrade at catcher and they did it at the same price as they spent last year. Four years might be one too many but apparently it was necessary to even woo McCann. It is a fair contract.

  • TJ

    This deal is not without risk, eseentially betting on McCann to replicate more current success of which there is shorter track record. Additionally, Realmuto is clearly the better player. Both those being said, this is a smart deal in the big picture of forming a competitive team. The Mets now have two competent catchers that the pitchers will like and respect. They may get some RH offense at the bottom of the lineup, but neither will have to carry a big responsibility. The financial commitment is higher than predicted, but this allows them numerous options going forward.

    I do agree somewhat with Gus – be it the Angels, Phillies, et al, those teams have a better shot at Realmuto. I would be fine seeing him in Aneheim or Texas, and just hope he doesn’t find his way to an NL East competitor at a big discount. But, I won’t lose sleep over it.

  • NYM6986

    So McCann fill the catcher’s role, the “ other “ Trever strengthens the back end of the pen in case Familia and Betances continue to disappoint, and Stroman returns as the Mets #2 starter. The lack of DH in the NL hinders the plan to keep both Alonso and Smith so does Smith and JD and a prospect go in a trade for another spot like a real 3B? If we pick up Springer and one more starter, how can we not be considered contenders? And none of this really counts on Noah in his first year back from TJ surgery. Hard not to be more optimistic going into this season than in past years.

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