The Mets decided on a long-term solution at catcher on Saturday, agreeing with James McCann on a four-year deal for about $40 million, according to multiple reports.
In choosing McCann to fill their most obvious hole, they spurned J.T. Realmuto, the top position player in free agency but someone they never appeared to be particularly interested in, and set up the spending of their big bucks on others.
McCann’s contract is pending his passing a physical, the reports said.
A couple of Mets were quick to congratulate McCann on social media, including Jeff McNeil. They were youth league teammates when they were kids in California.
"From Santa Barbara to MLB!! Now teammates in NY! Congrats James!!" McNeil said in the caption of an Instagram photo of the pair from the 2019 All-Star Game.
Marcus Stroman wrote on Twitter: "Beyond excited to work with [McCann]. 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!"
McCann’s track record of success is brief. Entering his age-31 season, he has one good full season on his resume. That came in 2019, when he was an All-Star with the White Sox — having been non-tendered by the Tigers the previous offseason.
He had a hot first half, hitting .316 with a .371 OBP and .502 slugging percentage. In the second half, though, he struggled with a .226/.281/.413 slash line — numbers close to what he did over five seasons in Detroit.
In the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, he was good again — .289/.360/.536 — while sharing time with Yasmani Grandal. And he rated well as a pitch-framer for the first time in his career.
McCann appears to be an upgrade over Wilson Ramos, the Mets’ starting catcher the past two seasons. Ramos was about league-average at the plate and struggled behind it.
Upon Ramos’ signing two years ago this week, he was 31 years old, billed as a big offensive improvement over the incumbents — Travis d’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki — and an OK defensive catcher. He regressed as a hitter, though, and had trouble with several defensive aspects, including framing pitches, tagging/mobility and establishing a rapport with pitchers.
With a four-year contract, McCann could be the bridge to 19-year-old Francisco Alvarez, a top-100 prospect who hasn’t played above rookie ball and thus is years away from the majors but is considered one of the premier catchers in the minors.
Among the remaining needs that the Mets and new GM Jared Porter will seek to satisfy: centerfield and starting pitcher. George Springer and Trevor Bauer are the best players available at those positions, but it is far from a given that the Mets will try to sign both.
"I can promise you we’re going to act like a major-market team," owner Steve Cohen said last month at his introductory news conference. "Are we going to act like drunken sailors in the marketplace? No. OK. So I want to be thoughtful."
Signing Springer, 31, would mean pushing Brandon Nimmo to leftfield, bolstering the defense at both positions. It also would push Dominic Smith to a more first base-centric role and further increase the importance of having the designated hitter, given that Pete Alonso also needs everyday at-bats. It remains unclear whether the National League will use the DH in 2021, as it did in 2020.
Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar are among other free-agent centerfielders.
Signing Bauer, who will turn 30 in January and is the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner, would give the Mets quite the 1-2 rotation punch with Jacob deGrom. They also have Stroman, Steven Matz and David Peterson, and Noah Syndergaard (Tommy John surgery) is due back at some point during the season.
Masahiro Tanaka, Jake Odorizzi, Taijuan Walker, Rich Hill and James Paxton are in the tier of free-agent starters below Bauer.