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Grading the Mets’ Mark Canha signing

The outfielder that was promised comes to Citi Field.

Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

Shortly after signing Eduardo Escobar, the Mets made another Black Friday purchase, this time adding Mark Canha on a two-year, $26.5M deal with a $11.5M club option for 2024. For months he’s been a meme on Mets twitter, but the former Rule 5 pick is heading from Oakland to New York to presumably start in right field for the 2022 Mets.

If you’re not familiar with those memes, you may not have heard much about Canha. He’s quietly been one of the best offensive outfielders in baseball over the past three season, with a .249/.377/.438 line that ranks as the 9th best in baseball by wRC+ since 2019 (among qualified hitters). That puts him just ahead of household names like Nick Castellanos and Michael Conforto and just behind superstars like Mookie Betts. It’s an OBP heavy profile, as Canha’s 13.3% walk rate ranks fourth among qualified outfielders in that same time span. That’s hardly his only skill, however, as Canha does a good job of making contact, has decent power, and has rated as an above average defender in the corners when healthy.

There’s a Nimmo-esque vibe to Canha; an underappreciated, not-so-flashy outfielder without high end athletic tools who nonetheless consistently produces impressive offensive lines thanks in large part to strong on base skills. The shape of the production is a little different - Canha has more power and isn’t quite the OBP demigod that Nimmo is - but Canha absolutely fits in as a corner outfield starter on a contending team.

Those glowing reviews aside, this signing does come with a fair amount of risk. Canha is entering his age-33 season and has a history of hip issues stemming from a labrum tear in 2016. Those issues reared their ugly head down the stretch in 2021, as he batted a paltry .206/.340/.319 in the second half while dealing with tendonitis in that same hip. Simply put. labral issues of any kind are extremely challenging to treat, and even surgical repair often can’t prevent the sort of lingering issues that affected Canha last season. As he heads into his mid-30s, those issues are likely to get worse, not better.

To illustrate that downside risk here, let’s consider the worst case for a moment. If Canha’s power doesn’t return, either in part or in full, he’s probably more like a league average hitter (think 2021 Tommy Pham if you want a comp). And if his hip remains problematic, his defense in the corner outfield probably takes a step back as well. Suddenly you’re looking at someone who is much more a 0-2 win role player that needs heavy load management rather than a 2-4 win starter on a contending roster. This also presumes no additional decline in contact skills. and that Canha is healthy enough to take the field at all.

Still, Canha is a worthwhile addition even with that sort of downside risk. The Mets just need to sculpt their roster around his potential limitations. A high quality fourth outfielder would allow the Mets to manage the load on Canha’s hip (not to mention help give Nimmo and his own injury issues a rest on occasion) and hopefully keep him healthy, while also providing a more robust fallback option if Canha’s injuries prevent him from being a viable starter. That sort of player isn’t on the roster currently, but there’s ample time left in the offseason and a number of solid options that would make sense.

Ultimately, the Mets are rolling the dice here on the health of a potentially very good player, and that’s generally a risk well worth taking, particularly at this price point and time scale. Concerns about how they build the roster to mitigate that risk will be addressed later in this series. On its own, the Canha signing earns a a B+.