Last weekend, the Mets signed James McCann to be their starting catcher. On its face, the signing is a curious one, considering J.T. Realmuto is a top-two catcher in baseball and is also a free agent. But there’s plenty of evidence that points to McCann’s breakout over the last two years being legitimate.
Dave Capobianco took an in-depth look at McCann’s improvements in a piece here at Amazin’ Avenue earlier this week, and shortly before the signing, Jarrett Seidler illustrated the recent similarities between McCann and Realmuto. The Mets are being a bit risky here, taking a bet that the McCann breakout is real and getting what would be an elite catcher for a cut price. Regardless of that, however, the Mets have an underrated need: backup catcher.
Since 2018, McCann has the fewest games played among qualified catchers, in part because he was splitting time behind the plate with Yasmani Grandal this year. McCann has topped out at 118 games played in a season, which is certainly nothing to sneeze at, but that kind of workload would leave a lot of games for the backup catchers. And, unfortunately for the Mets, that is a razor thin spot organizationally.
Tomás Nido is the Mets’ top backup currently, and that is rather concerning. He is a good defensive catcher, but his offense has been largely horrible in the majors. In 2018, his first real run in Queens, he hit .167/.200/.238 line with a 20 wRC+ in 90 plate appearances, and in 2019 he upped that to .191/.231/.316 with a 40 wRC+ in 144 plate appearances.
He did hit well in 2020, posting a whopping 150 wRC+ and a .292/.346/.583 line, but it was over a grand total of seven games and 26 plate appearances. While it was nice to see Nido hit, it would be foolish for the Mets to throw all their catcher depth eggs into a basket that contains a positive sample size of one week. Making him the third catcher is more than fine.
Behind him, Ali Sanchez and Patrick Mazeika are both uninspiring options. The only big time catching prospect the Mets have is Francisco Alvarez, who is 19 and just lost a year of development due to COVID-19—he’s very far away. Backup catcher would have been a need regardless of who the Mets signed, but it should be bumped up the list just a little bit with McCann being the choice.
A good thing for the Mets is there are a decent amount of options for them at this spot. Curt Casali, who was recently non-tendered, has been mostly a good hitter in his career, with a 95 career wRC+. That number is heavily brought down by a .186/.273/.336 line with a 67 wRC+ in 2016, a number he has shown is a clear aberration by this point.
Tyler Flowers could be another option, someone who is strong defensively and is basically an average catcher offensively for his career.
Jason Castro is also a free agent, though his case is a little different. He is strictly a platoon bat, as he holds a 59 wRC+ against lefties in his career and a 105 wRC+ against righties. The Mets could turn their catcher position into sort of a soft-platoon, making sure McCann gets his days off against tough righties and pinch hitting for Castro late in games he does start when lefty relievers come in. If McCann would miss time it may pose an issue against lefites, but there are typically more righties than lefties in the league anyway.
I don’t know that I would go this route, but Jeff Mathis is also a free agent. He cannot hit a lick—3,006 plate appearances, .194/.253/.300 line—but he is an absolutely incredible defender. He gives you a weird dynamic in that sense, but you are basically employing two pitchers in your lineup on days he starts. That’s hard to swallow.
There are a few ways the Mets can create a very good catching tandem—McCann staying around the 110 games mark has proven good for his health, and it would help when the playoffs come around, assuming they are in them. If you pair him with a legitimately good backup catcher, you’re covering yourself in the event that his breakout stays short-lived, and his position is the most dangerous one on the field anyway—every catcher is at a higher risk to injury than every other position on the field.
The Mets have money to spend now, and it certainly would not hurt for them to shell out a few million for far superior depth at a precarious position.