12:02pm: The two sides do not yet have an agreement in place, tweets MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo. Martino tweets that the Mets have indicated they’re willing to go to four years, however, so the final haggling could be a matter of the exact dollar point associated with that term.
11:29am: The Mets and free-agent catcher James McCann are closing in on what is expected to be a four-year contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (via Twitter). SNY’s Andy Martino reported this morning that talks between the two sides had picked up steam. McCann is represented by the Ballengee Group.
A deal with McCann will obviously take the Mets out of the market for top free-agent catcher J.T. Realmuto, although indications over the past week have been that McCann was the team’s primary catching target — not Realmuto. McCann has long stood out as the No. 2 catcher on this market, and the Mets’ decision to sign him has been linked to their pursuit of higher-profile free agents at other positions, namely center fielder George Springer and right-hander Trevor Bauer.
A four-year pact for McCann would cap off a remarkable turnaround for the 30-year-old backstop, who just two offseasons ago was non-tendered by the Tigers on the heels of a disastrous year at the plate. McCann quickly hooked on with the White Sox, signing a modest one-year deal to serve as a backup, but he broke out both at the plate and behind the plate as a defender during his time on Chicago’s south side — so much that he’s established himself as a clear starting option.
Over the past two seasons in Chicago, McCann has raked at a .276/.334/.474 clip with 25 home runs, 29 doubles and a triple in 587 plate appearances. The uptick in production at the plate is supported by several underlying metrics; McCann’s average exit velocity sat at 87.8 mph in 2018 but jumped to 90.2 mph with the White Sox.
McCann also boosted his hard-hit rate from 37.1 percent with the Tigers in ’18 to 44.9 percent with the South Siders thanks in large part to nearly doubling the rate at which he barrels pitches. McCann’s line-drive rate has risen with the Sox, too, as his infield fly rate has dropped. McCann’s strikeout rate has trended upward a bit with the White Sox, but the extra whiffs have been more than offset by the improvement in the quality of the contact when he does put bat to ball.
Behind the plate, McCann has long been adept at controlling the running game. Even with the Tigers, he nabbed 37 percent of those who attempted to take a base against him. One knock on McCann, however, was on his receiving ability — or lack thereof. McCann ranked well below average in terms of framing metrics for much of his time with the Tigers and even early in his White Sox tenure — a flaw that likely influenced the White Sox’ decision to sign Yasmani Grandal to a four-year pact last winter.
Recognizing that shortcoming, McCann spent the bulk of his offseason working with catching guru Jerry Narron to improve his receiving and framing. The results paid off, as Statcast ranked McCann as much-improved in that regard, particularly with pitches at the bottom of the strike zone, which was where he’d struggled most. McCann went from garnering strike calls on just 44.1 percent of pitches at or slightly below the bottom of the zone to an excellent 61.8 percent. One can suggest that there’s some small-sample smoke and mirrors at play, but McCann’s improvement was pronounced enough that it can’t be entirely dismissed as small-sample noise. It would seem that the Mets agree.
There’s certainly some risk to the deal for the Mets, particularly given the four-year term. While McCann has been excellent since Opening Day 2019, his more limited role early in 2019 and this past season’s shortened slate of games leave us with only about one full season’s worth of data supporting his offensive gains. That said, Mets catchers hit just .239/.294/.403 in 2020, so the bar to clear for overall improvement isn’t a particularly high one.
If the deal with McCann does indeed come to fruition, he’ll be the second notable veteran in as many weeks to join the Mets on a multi-year deal. Longtime Twins setup man Trevor May, one of the market’s top relievers, inked a two-year deal worth a guaranteed $15.5MM last week. The Mets have yet to finalize their search for a new general manager, but former GM Sandy Alderson has returned to the club as team president and is calling the shots in the baseball operations department under new owner Steve Cohen.