DETROIT -- James McCann was a September callup when he made his Major League debut in 2014. He was the third catcher for a Tigers team battling for its fourth consecutive American League Central title, trying to hold off the up-and-coming Royals.With so much on the line, the Tigers gave
DETROIT -- James McCann was a September callup when he made his Major League debut in 2014. He was the third catcher for a Tigers team battling for its fourth consecutive American League Central title, trying to hold off the up-and-coming Royals.
With so much on the line, the Tigers gave McCann his second Major League start in Kansas City with just over a week left in the season. His task that night was catching Justin Verlander, a challenge for even a veteran backstop.
While Verlander pitched 7 1/3 innings of one-run ball that night, McCann had two hits and scored two of Detroit's 10 runs. The win loomed larger when the Tigers eventually won the division by a one-game margin.
McCann made two starts that September, catching Verlander and another former AL Cy Young Award winner, David Price.
"Being able to come up and have big league Spring Training with that group of guys and see how those veterans handled themselves and how those guys dealt with failure and success, all the things I was able to take from that experience, obviously it's helped shape me into who I am today and leading into my experiences," McCann, 28, said Monday.
If Friday's non-tender marks the end of McCann's Tigers tenure, his final game wearing the Old English D was the season finale in Milwaukee. He was the veteran, catching Spencer Turnbull's third Major League start. The only player in that game with more time in a Tigers uniform was Nicholas Castellanos. The roster, and the team's direction, had flipped around him.
McCann didn't say he saw last week's move coming, but the possibility was clear.
"Honestly, you try not to think about it. You try to control what you can control," McCann said. "But human nature is you try to play things out in your head and figure out what your future looks like. You know you're not part of the full rebuild plans. That's fine. That's part of the business. You know you're not likely to play for the same team your entire career. Whether it happened now or a year from now or two, I value the time I had in Detroit."
Neither McCann nor Alex Wilson, a Tiger since 2015, heard from the team leading up to Friday's moves. Both received a call from general manager Al Avila, who explained why they were being non-tendered, wishing them luck and letting them know they'd be welcome back if they don't get a satisfactory offer in free agency.
McCann and Wilson pretty much knew the reasons. The Tigers are heading into their second full season of a multiyear rebuild. Wilson is a year away from free agency, McCann two, and the Tigers have prospects in waiting for both positions when the rebuild is complete. With McCann and Wilson having made $2.375 million and $1.925 million, respectively, this past season, the Tigers parted ways now.
"I kind of honestly thought I might be the lone older guy that stuck around," Wilson said, "because I have such a good relationship with all the young guys coming up."
While with Detroit, Wilson did everything from spot starter to closer. The 32-year-old was the last player left from the 2014 trade that sent Rick Porcello to Boston and brought Yoenis Cespedes back. His 246 appearances for the Tigers since '15 are 41 more than any other Tigers pitcher in that stretch.
"I think I grew a lot as a player," Wilson said. "I kind of cemented myself as big leaguer in Detroit. I had a lot of fun. We didn't always play up to our expectations, and then obviously last year was a rebuild year. But at the same time, it allowed me to turn into what I am as a player. They gave me an opportunity to showcase what I can do in everything."
McCann, meanwhile, moves on from the only organization he has known since becoming a pro.
"The organization will always be special for me for two big reasons," McCann said. "First was 2011 when they drafted me. I was a second-round pick and the Tigers' top pick, so it's special to me in the sense that the Detroit organization was the only organization that didn't pass on me at least once. The second is getting that first opportunity, the opportunity to play at the Major League level for parts of five seasons."
Maybe tougher for McCann is moving on from a community that became a second home to him. While he and his family have spent offseasons in Arkansas, Dallas and now Nashville, Tenn. -- where his twin boys are doing great after last winter's medical scare -- Michigan has been an in-season constant.
"That's one of the hardest parts about the business of baseball: When you are around somewhere for so long, you plant yourself in a community," McCann said. "We made friends we're going to remember. The connections that I made in the community, whether it was hospital visits or Miracle League games, that is one of the harder things. You've created those relationships. Now, I don't want to say they're gone, but they're going to be less often."
Now, both McCann and Wilson are thrust into free agency sooner than expected. Wilson, for one, is hoping to find a spot on a contender and pitch in meaningful games in September. He has already received interest from a couple of teams, he said.
McCann doesn't know where he'll land, but he's hoping to turn this into a positive.
"Moving forward, I'm extremely thankful and grateful for the time I had in Detroit," he said, "and I'm excited to see what the future holds."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.