PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — There were points last season, when the Mets had a different manager and a different general manager and a whole different feel, when James McCann and Tomas Nido basically split the playing time at catcher.
Such a shift was an indictment of McCann, who was in the first year of a four-year contract worth about $10 million annually. That after mere months he had to share with Nido — normally a light-hitting backup — was not a promising sign about the Mets’ investment. Part of the point, though, was the idea that McCann might have benefitted from the reduced role, that he played better when he played less, a notion with which he disagreed.
"I bet that wasn’t him speaking about that, right?" manager Buck Showalter said Friday.
So don’t count on that timeshare again this season. At least not at the beginning.
"I’m hoping he’s presenting himself as a guy that can be our catcher," Showalter said.
The story on McCann entering 2022 is a familiar one: He played poorly last season. There were a lot of reasons for that, maybe injuries or a new league or a new team or trying too hard. This year will be about trying to rebound, being more like the player he knows he can be. If he can do that, the Mets will be better off.
It is true for Francisco Lindor like it is true for Jeff McNeil like it is true for Dominic Smith like it is true for McCann.
"Especially when you go through extended struggle periods, you learn stuff," said McCann, who also referenced batting in front of the pitcher as something to which he needed to adjust, though that won’t be a factor anymore with the arrival of the DH rule in the National League. "You learn who you are as a player, you learn adjustments you need to make. From an offensive standpoint, it was a learning year, the adjustments I need to make, getting back to who I was."
The reason McCann believes he can be better is because he has done this already.
In 2018, he hit a low point — career-worst marks in average, OBP and slugging percentage. The Tigers cut him after the season. He signed with the White Sox, and in 2019 he was an All-Star.
"If you don’t make an adjustment, you don’t stick around," he said. "I’m not in a position that I haven’t been in before."
The problem for McCann last year is he got away from what made him successful in Chicago, he said: serving the ball to rightfield.
Nearly one-third of his batted balls in 2019-20 went there. That dropped to one-quarter — a significant decrease — last year. He also hit way more ground balls and fewer line drives, trends that make hits less likely.
When he finished April with a .214/.290/.268 slash line, McCann started overcompensating. The same happened to a bunch of other Mets, he said. They were one of the lowest-scoring teams on the season.
"Everyone got off to a slow start," he said. "Then we were behind the eight-ball, chasing and trying to make up for the first few weeks, first month. Next thing you know, it’s September."
The Mets should be better at hitting this year, and McCann is penciled into the bottom-third of the order. Showalter expects improvement from him.
"You want to create as many non-breathing spots as you can, where [opposing pitchers] have to go high torque and high leverage every hitter," he said. "His season could allow us to really stretch out our lineup."