When Steve Cohen took over in 2020, the first big move of his and Sandy Alderson’s new regime was the signing of James McCann to a four-year, $40 million contract to fill the hole at catcher. At the time, those in the organization probably hoped the signing proved that a new era was indeed upon us, as the Mets identified positive changes McCann made to his game that transformed him from a career backup to an All-Star caliber catcher, and they were the kind of changes the Wilpon regime probably would not have been able to identify. Getting McCann on the upswing would go a long way towards signaling that this was a smarter and more advanced organization than it was before.
Unfortunately, McCann was a massive disappointment in 2021, posting just a measly 80 wRC+ and just 0.5 fWAR. Meanwhile, J.T. Realmuto, whom the Mets passed on that winter, put up a 4.5 fWAR season for the division rival Phillies. Very quickly, the McCann signing resembled not one of a fresh, smarter organization, but rather the same kind of disappointing, down-market signings the Wilpons would shoot for instead of going for the real stars like Realmuto at the top of the market.
The 2022 season was a chance for McCann to erase that, though, and rewrite the story of his Mets career. Plugged into a starting job behind the dish once again, McCann had the runway to re-assert himself as a starting caliber catcher and prove himself in his second year in New York.
What followed was a season even worse than the previous one. In fact, it was one of the worst offensive seasons a Mets catcher has ever had. Among Mets catchers who have received at least 180 PAs in a season, McCann’s .243 wOBA this year was the fifth-worst among the 92 catcher seasons that qualify; his wRC+ of 59 is tied for the 8th-worst of that group with Kevin Plawecki in 2015 and Todd Hundley in 1992.
There’s no nice way to put it; it was a brutal season for McCann in basically every way, cementing himself as not just a poor signing, but one of the worst in the history of a franchise littered with them. His performance quickly earned Tomás Nido more playing time in his stead, and then two separate injuries almost in succession of each other wound up costing McCann significant time. In May, a sore left wrist sent him to the x-ray machine which revealed a full fracture in that wrist, putting him on the shelf for 5 weeks. He returned in late June but promptly landed back on the IL in early July with an oblique strain, which cost him roughly another month. He returned in August, but he had already lost the lion’s share of playing time to Nido at that point.
McCann was really never in any sort of offensive groove at any point this year. The only thing he had resembling a hot streak was a nice little 7-for-22 stretch in early September where he got a few big hits, but that was quickly followed by a 1-for-27 stretch through the rest of the month.
Two years in, and it’s now apparent that this was just a colossal miss by an understaffed Mets front office at the time. The good news is that the front office is completely different now than it was then, and many of those who made the evaluation that McCann was a $40 million player while Realmuto was not worth seriously pursuing are no longer in decision making positions within the organization, while others have left entirely.
With the arrival of Francisco Álvarez to the majors and Nido proving over the last two years that he can be a capable backup catcher, there is no reason for the Mets to carry McCann on the 2023 roster. Whatever value he provides defensively is, at worst, matched by Nido, and defense-first catchers who can’t hit anywhere close to league average are almost always available on the scrap heap anyway. The Mets should try to find someone to take McCann off their hands along with as much of the remaining $24 million he’s owed that they can. And if they can’t, they should probably be willing to eat the rest of his deal and simply cut bait a la Robinson Canó. There is just nothing McCann can do that will be of use to the 2023 Mets.