When the Mets signed catcher James McCann before the 2021 season it was, generally, viewed through the following lenses:

  1. They really needed a starting catcher, and he seemingly fit the bill.
  2. Their chances of signing J.T. Realmuto seemed slim.
  3. The lineup appeared strong regardless of who sat behind the plate.
  4. The deal allowed the flexibility to sign another “big” free agent.

Colored through those lenses, the four-year, $40.6 million contract he signed to bring his services to Queens was mostly viewed in a positive light. The Mets seemed to jump out in front of the market a little quickly, sure, but when you know what you want you go out and get it. Right?

You don’t need me to remind you of how brutal hindsight can be, but practically all of the points mentioned above ended up being wrong:

  1. McCann’s performance more closely resembled the five mediocre years he spent in Detroit rather than his 149 games in Chicago.
  2. Realmuto signed for significantly fewer (though expensive) years than expected.
  3. A large chunk of the Mets’ starting lineup regressed dramatically if unpredictably.
  4. They didn’t sign any additional “big” free agents, like George Springer or Trevor Bauer, to whom they were frequently linked.

To be fair, hindsight also reveals that not signing Springer or (especially) Bauer ended up being a blessing. Additionally, there were rumblings that Realmuto wasn’t interested in playing for the team. Even so, and unless he turns things completely around, this may be one of the Mets’ worst signings in quite some time.

There’s an excellent Fangraphs Community article from last September by Arvind Kalyan that goes into McCann’s 2021 outcomes and some of the potential reasons for his regression, so we won’t dive into too many of the numbers here. The high (or low) points for his 2021 season are that his 80 wRC+ was the third lowest of his seven full seasons and 23rd for all catchers (minimum 300 PAs), and his 0.5 fWAR made him one of the least valuable catchers in the league (on par with one Kevin Plawecki). His performance was worth less than 50% of his salary last year.

A major warning sign of things to come may be that McCann’s 2019-2020 seasons (the ones that got him paid) came with OBPs significantly higher than his career norms. We’ve taken better (and younger) players to task for this same reason at Mets360 over the years, and there’s no reason not to be extra cautious regarding his ability to replicate the success he saw during those seasons.

Is it all gloom and doom? Well, the first thing to note is that far better players have struggled in their first season in New York. In fact, one of those players shared the same struggle with McCann last season. The second thing to note is a repeat of an earlier point: the offensive struggles were seemingly systemic up and down the lineup, and it may not have been (all) the players’ fault. A very interesting article by John Harper last month highlighted the frustration the Mets’ hitters experienced last season potentially due to an “analytics overload.” It seems that the pendulum swung just a bit too far the other way with regard to the team’s history of resourcing their analytics department, and a course correction appears to be in order.

It’s possible McCann can rediscover the adjustments he made that finally enabled him to find success, though the perpetual Mets cynic in me believes that we’ll likely never see the version of him the team thought they were signing out of Chicago. That same cynical side of me can’t decide whether it was a worthy gamble or if the Mets jumped the market by once again thinking they were the smartest team in the room. The reality is likely somewhere in the middle, where a team desperately needing a starting catcher took the best course of action to ensure they weren’t left without a chair when the music stopped. There’s nothing to do but wait and see at this point.

And hey, there’s always Francisco Alvarez waiting in the wings.

7 comments on “The return of (the old) James McCann

  • JamesTOB

    A fine analysis as usual. Thank you.

  • Steve_S.

    Yes, we dodged a bullet with Bauer. Springer had a fine, albeit injury-gutted year, but we signed Marte a year later for less money. And McCann might revert back to the guy we hoped we had signed and be good for a couple of years before Alvarez arrives.

  • Metsense

    Rob, you excellently sums up it. When Alderson signed McCann he hoped for nineteen year old Alvarez would develop on schedule and debut in 2024 as a 22 year old. McCann would be in last year of his contract and so he could mentor the rookie and share the catching duties to take some of the pressure off. So far the plan isn’t working. McCann was a disappointment and Eppler should get a better backup to replace Nido’s 161 PA and Mazeika’s 87 PA. A very good catcher is rare in MLB. That is why Alvarez is so valuable.

  • Remember1969

    Agree – great analysis.

    I am on the train that there was something bigger going on last year with all the hitters as you pointed out. I think they were over-analyticed. The only two that were exempt from that somehow were Nimmo and Alonso.

    I believe that everyone will have better results in 2022 with the new regime. McCann and Smith are my picks for biggest comeback.

  • NYM6986

    Nice analysis. Clearly if some of the others were hitting it could have hidden McCann’s disappointment at the plate. I do think he was a defensive upgrade from whoever else we would have put on the field and at $10 mil per he was not really expensive. I think his 27% caught stealing was still an upgrade to Plawecki and dArnaud and his lifetime 34% is in the top ten. Once JT said no to playing in NY that put an end to the cream of the crop coming here. I think Nido is a capable part time back up but Mazeika has to go. Does anyone believe Wilson Contrares has anything left in the tank to sign as a better backup? Looking ahead to 2022 – some day – with the hopes of a stronger offensive showing. And excited about who might still be joining the club after the contract issues with MLB is resolved.

  • Jimmy P

    I hate his stupid batting stance, it screams “slow bat.” No way can he cover both sides of the plate. He’s a mistake hitter who needs to crush mistakes; last season, he fouled them off.

    I thought his defense was “good.”

    Mets have bigger fish to fry.

  • Wobbit

    I’m with Jimmy P.

    McCann’s bat is not important to me. Wilson Ramos was painful to watch, and McCann righted that position. As far as rebound, I can’t imagine he has that much high end to ascend to. If he can start 110 games, hit 8th, stay healthy, and throw out base-runners at the same clip… I’m good. Slashing .250/ .300 / .375, maybe 10 HRs enough for me.

    Jimmy’s assessment of bigger fish sums it up.

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