It's official: McCann a Met with 4-year deal

December 15th, 2020

NEW YORK -- From the jump, the Mets’ decision at catcher appeared to be between and , the two most prominent backstops available in free agency. Front-office officials spoke to both, but the timing of negotiations favored McCann, who offered indications that he was more willing to sign earlier in the offseason.

Given that reconnaissance, the Mets became more ardent in their pursuit of McCann, officially signing him Tuesday to a four-year deal. The contract is worth $40.6 million in guaranteed money, according to a source.

“James has established himself as one of the best dual-threat catchers in the game,” Mets president Sandy Alderson said in a statement. “His leadership and presence in the clubhouse were instrumental in guiding a young pitching staff into the postseason in 2020.”

In theory, signing McCann does two things for the Mets: It gives them one of the game’s stronger all-around catchers, while also keeping their payroll low enough to remain aggressive on other free-agent targets such as outfielder and starting pitcher .

“Everybody knows how we’re positioned right now,” Alderson said. “There’s no secret there.”

In discussing the deal during a Zoom conference on Monday, Alderson stressed that even though the dynamics of the catching market led the Mets to McCann, he was still a player whose skill set they valued greatly. The 30-year-old enjoyed a career year after the Tigers non-tendered him in 2019, batting .273/.328/.460 with 18 home runs for the White Sox the following summer. He made his first All-Star team that season, then followed it up with an even better offensive performance over 31 games in '20.

McCann has also posted positive metrics behind the plate the past two seasons, including nine Defensive Runs Saved. He has made significant improvements to his pitch framing, which was an area of issue throughout former catcher Wilson Ramos’ tenure with the Mets. But McCann split time with Yasmani Grandal last season in Chicago and has spent much of his career as a backup, never appearing in more than 118 games. Now in New York, the Mets will count on him as their everyday catcher, likely with behind him on the depth chart.

Ramos and Robinson Chirinos became free agents last month, leaving the Mets with only Nido and prospect Ali Sánchez on their depth chart. A four-year deal for McCann effectively bridges the gap between now and when the Mets’ No. 2 prospect, Francisco Alvarez, is ready for the Majors. (Just 19 years old, Alvarez has yet to advance beyond Rookie-level ball, but the organization has high hopes that he can be an All-Star-caliber catcher in his prime.)

“Beyond excited to work with @JamesMcCann34,” Mets pitcher tweeted after news of the deal broke. “I’ve heard nothing but unbelievable things about him as a player and person. Guy rakes at the dish and is always locked in behind the plate! Welcome to NY my man!”

Much of the Mets’ early offseason buzz surrounded Realmuto, a two-time All-Star featuring the finest track record of any free-agent catcher. But with Realmuto reportedly seeking a deal as high as $200 million, McCann represented an intriguing second option for the Mets and other clubs. Over the past two seasons, McCann has produced 4.9 WAR, compared to 5.6 for Realmuto.

More than that, McCann was willing to sign before the holidays, whereas Realmuto did not give the Mets similar indications. Team officials feared waiting for Realmuto, only to watch McCann sign elsewhere and then have no choice but to descend into a bidding war for the market’s best catcher.

Still, Alderson said, “This wasn’t a compromise pick. We’d been engaged with James for a considerable period of time. There’s a lot we like about James.”

At roughly $10 million per annum, McCann’s budget line gives the Mets plenty of wiggle room as they explore other pursuits this winter. Alderson recently signed to a two-year deal worth $15.5 million and has been vocal about his desire to upgrade the rotation. Alderson has also targeted center field as an area of need, with Springer the best option available.

“We have a number of needs,” Alderson said. “We can afford to wait to fill some of them. We can’t afford to wait to fill all of them.”