In the pre-lockout free agent frenzy, the Mets stole headlines by signing four players in a matter of days. Max Scherzer and Starling Marte were obviously the big-ticket items, but before those two were brought in, Mark Canha was signed in a move that that wound up getting overshadowed by the others. Canha is no small piece, though, and he was signed to a 2-year, $26.5 million deal to presumably play everyday in right field and hit in the meat of the Mets’ lineup, replacing Michael Conforto.
Canha does not come with a lot of name recognition, partially because he played in Oakland, and partially because he spent several years not actually being very good. He was a talented Rule 5 selection for the A’s that had a nice 2015 season to earn his spot on their roster, but was ultimately a Quad-A, up-and-down guy over the next few years. That was until 2018, when Canha put up a surprisingly solid 115 wRC+ and 2.1 fWAR in just 122 games to earn an everyday starting job for Oakland. He then fully exploded into a star 2019 with a 146 wRC+, 26 home runs, a .396 OBP and 4.0 fWAR, cementing himself as a true first-division regular.
He had another strong offensive season in the pandemic-shortened 2020, and was off to another rip-roaring start in 2021 with a 134 wRC+ and a .375 OBP in the first half. It seemed like Canha had truly blossomed into one of the better corner outfielders in baseball.
Unfortunately, he then went down with a hip injury in late June of last year, came back in July, and was not the same after. His power output basically evaporated in the second half, resulting in an ugly .206/.340/.319 batting line with a measly .113 ISO in the season’s final 2.5 months,
That rough second half dragged Canha’s overall 2021 batting average and power numbers down to their lowest marks since 2017, while also putting up his lowest OBP since 2018. A 33-year-old with a contact skill that appears to be declining and hip issues that may have sapped his power is a real gamble for the Mets to pin their hopes to.
This year, Canha is presumably healthy coming into the year, and if he is truly over the hip issue then the Mets may have gotten a steal for only a little more than $10 million per year. A healthy Canha can still be one of the better corner outfielders in the game; the type of 4+ WAR cornerstone you hope to build around. However, a broken down version of Canha is probably more of a rotational player who will need frequent days off or even days at the DH position just to keep him healthy. His numbers after his injury last year don’t present much of an upgrade over what Conforto gave the Mets last year.
That’s the risk the Mets took when they inked the 33-year-old. After all, there is a reason he was available for so cheap. Whichever Mark Canha the Mets get will go a long way towards determining how much better they’ve actually made their bottom-tier offense from last year.