Was the James McCann Signing a Mistake?

In the offseason, the New York Mets gave free-agent catcher James McCann a four-year, $40.6 million contract. Things have not been going well so far. Things have gotten bad enough that McCann has been benched in favor of Tomás Nido. The Mets were banking on McCann’s breakout 2019 and 2020 seasons being legit. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. In 31 games, McCann has an extremely disappointing .200/.273/.240 slash line to go along with -0.3 fWar. 

Savvy Signing or Overpay?

This contract was one of new Mets owner Steve Cohen’s first signings, however, it caused some eyebrows to be raised. Giving a 30-year-old catcher a four-year deal is questionable, to say the least. Contracts of that length for catchers are typically reserved for the elite at the position, like Yasmani Grandal or J.T. Realmuto

The Mets came into the 2020-2021 offseason in search of a catcher. However, the Mets opted to avoid any J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes in favor of the cheaper McCann. This play seemed savvy at the time, but it obviously hasn’t played out that way. Ironically, what the Mets hoped would be a way to save money may end up being an overpay. The most confusing part is that there did not seem to be anyone else seriously involved with McCann during the offseason. What made the Mets go to four years? Certainly, there could have been a bidding war behind the scenes, but as far we know the Mets were bidding against themselves. 

While, yes, Cohen got the Lindor extension done, it has to be disappointing that Realmuto has not pursued it. Cohen claimed to not want to spend money too rashly and not want to blow past the luxury tax. But, one could argue that giving James McCann $40 million is quite a rash decision while spending $115 million on Realmuto is a very rational decision. Realmuto is the best catcher in all of baseball, while McCann simply did not have the track record of consistency that Realmuto had to enter free agency.

A Look at the Numbers

McCann’s strikeout, walk, and hard-hit percentages are all in line with his 2019 and 2020 seasons. This is a good sign because it suggests that McCann has not yet significantly regressed. His BAbip(batting average on balls in play) in 2021 is down from his 2019-2020 seasons. McCann’s .359 BAbip in 2019 can be considered lucky, but his .275 in 2021 can be considered equally as unlucky. While his 44.3 hard-hit percentage is good, the real problem lies in his high, 55.7, ground ball percentage. That explains why he only has one home run on the year. This is concerning because 55.7 is much higher than at any point in his career, and lifting the ball is the name of the game in modern baseball.

In McCann’s defense, he does have four years to turn things around. The 2021 season is still very young, and any player not living up to expectations can be chalked up to small sample size. Furthermore, McCann’s defense has been as excellent as advertised. So far he has accumulated 0.4 dWar. However, none of that seems to mean anything to the Mets, considering they benched him. In the end, a .513 OPS and 47 OPS+ just doesn’t cut it. 

Final Thoughts

While McCann seemed to have broken out in 2019, he only played 180 games over the past 2 seasons. That is hardly enough of a sample size to determine he has moved past his 76 OPS+ from 2014 through 2018. In context, the James McCann signing was a mistake. The Mets have the richest owner in baseball, and the best catcher in baseball was on the market. The Mets thought they were being smart, and now the catching position continues to be a problem for them.

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