James McCann

White Sox keep catching options open with one-year deal for James McCann

White Sox keep catching options open with one-year deal for James McCann

What will the White Sox catching corps look like come Opening Day?

It's hard to say exactly, but they have a bunch of options — and seem intent on keeping it that way.

The team announced a one-year, $5.4 million deal with James McCann on Monday, avoiding arbitration a few hours ahead of the non-tender deadline.

Of course, plenty still wonder what will become of McCann after the White Sox gave free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal the richest contract in team history a couple weeks back. While it seems that having two All-Star catchers is an inarguably good thing, there have been queries as to why catcher was the position the White Sox addressed in free agency with so many other positions on the to-do list.

Grandal's acquisition stabilized a position that despite McCann's All-Star status was steamrolling toward 2020 with some huge question marks. McCann was deservedly invited to the Midsummer Classic thanks to a .316/.371/.502 slash line in the first half. But after the All-Star break, McCann slashed just .226/.281/.413, numbers far more reminiscent of his five years with the Detroit Tigers, which ended in him being non-tendered at this time a year ago. So which level of production will the White Sox get in 2020? It's an unknown. Grandal has a far longer track record of offensive success.

Of course, there are far more benefits to keeping McCann around for another year than simply the hope that he'll be more first half than second half. He earned rave reviews for his work with the pitchers and for his tireless efforts in game planning. He's a positive presence in the White Sox clubhouse and received a ton of praise from Lucas Giolito, who McCann worked with often during the pitcher's transformational season that saw him turn into the ace of the starting staff.

The White Sox can take advantage of those positives and consider any return to the All-Star level of offensive production a bonus, with Grandal figuring to get the lion's share of the at-bats in the No. 1 catcher position. If McCann is the team's No. 2 catcher, that means the White Sox have a catching duo to be really excited about.

"I’m sure he’s (saying), ‘Gosh, we just signed a guy and gave him a multiple-year contract. Where do I fit?’ Well, I made him understand," manager Rick Renteria said of McCann after the Grandal signing. "The conversation we had was, he knows how I feel about him. The whole organization knows how I feel about him. I love Mac, and I think that this addition does not detract from who he is and what he brings to the table as White Sox.

"I wanted him to know that we’re going to make this work. I think that all players when you make a change or add, they deserve to have a conversation with the man that is putting the lineup together. I just said, ‘Listen, don’t worry about it. This will work itself out.’ It will. It always does. Things happen and right now this is a move that the organization felt that could us in a better position moving forward. Rick (Hahn) and everyone pulled the trigger, and we’re glad we did because we’re getting better."

Of course, the White Sox could also cash in on McCann coming off his All-Star season in a trade, should they find an opportunity to upgrade the roster elsewhere. While Zack Collins is even more of an unknown, considering his limited big league experience, the White Sox are searching for ways to get his bat in the lineup. He has faced questions about his defense since he was drafted, but he could take over the No. 2 spot behind Grandal, if need be. Collins could also be a third catcher, behind Grandal and McCann, if the White Sox decide that's how they want to use the 26th spot on the expanded rosters.

The White Sox also could keep all three and use them as part of a four-man rotation at catcher, designated hitter and first base with Jose Abreu.

On top of all that, the White Sox have two heretofore unmentioned catchers still on the 40-man roster, Seby Zavala and Yermin Mercedes, who could fit into this puzzle somehow, as well, depending on how the rest of the offseason plays out.

The point is that there are a lot of options, and that's now assured by the new one-year deal for McCann.

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What to expect from the White Sox at the non-tender deadline

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USA TODAY

What to expect from the White Sox at the non-tender deadline

It's non-tender deadline day, perhaps more often greeted by the casual observer with a question mark as opposed to an exclamation point, but an important day on baseball's offseason calendar, nonetheless.

The White Sox, along with their 29 major league compatriots, have until Monday night to tender contract offers to their arbitration-eligible players or to decide not to, sending them to free agency. The White Sox have decisions to make on six players: Alex Colome, James McCann, Leury Garcia, Carlos Rodon, Yolmer Sanchez and Evan Marshall.

Here's what to expect.

Yolmer Sanchez

Sanchez has been the most discussed of this group, and indeed his time with the White Sox already appears to be over. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal reported last week that the team placed its Gold Glove second baseman on outright waivers and that Sanchez cleared those waivers and will head to free agency. Sanchez, who had repeatedly said he wanted to stay with the only organization he's ever known, followed with a social-media post or two indicating he was going to try to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation. The team, aside from a comment from manager Rick Renteria, has not officially announced anything involving Sanchez's status.

Certainly the White Sox moving on from Sanchez wasn't difficult to foresee. Nick Madrigal, the team's first-round pick in the 2018 draft, is on the doorstep of the major leagues and is expected to be the starting second baseman on the South Side for the bulk of the 2020 campaign. While Sanchez plays some exceptional defense, he can't match what Madrigal — a top-40 prospect in baseball who has also been touted as an elite defender — can do with the bat. Sanchez slashed just .252/.318/.321 in 2019, while Madrigal tore up the minors to the tune of .311/.377/.414 and struck out only 16 times in 120 games. In the end, Sanchez would have been an expensive reserve infielder, projected to make $6.2 million in arbitration.

Alex Colome

There are certain corners of the White Sox internet that look at Colome's second-half splits and lack of strikeouts and see doom coming around the bend. Indeed, Colome did fare much worse after the All-Star break than he did before it, with a 3.91 ERA and a frightening .265/.347/.422 slash line against in the second half after posting a 2.02 ERA and holding hitters to a .127/.194/.288 line in the first half. Is that worth a projected $10.3 million? That's the decision the White Sox face.

But Colome has been one of the more productive ninth-inning men in baseball in recent seasons, even if the second half of 2019 didn't look so good. Since the start of the 2016 season, he's posted a 2.78 ERA and saved 126 games, a total that would be significantly higher if not for his playing setup man for the majority of 2018.

In a 2019 season featuring plenty of problems from the rotation and lineup, the bullpen was a reliable unit for the White Sox, with a 4.31 ERA that ranked seventh in the American League, behind only the five playoff teams and the Cleveland Indians, who narrowly missed the postseason. Stability at the back end with Colome and Aaron Bummer is a good thing to head into 2020 with, especially with so many other holes that need filling on the roster. The White Sox likely don't want to add potentially expensive bullpen help to their offseason to-do list.

James McCann

The White Sox tendering McCann a contract is a no-brainer, but he's been talked about an awful lot since the team inked free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal to the richest contract it's ever given out a couple weeks ago. McCann doesn't figure to go anywhere, even with another All-Star backstop now ahead of him on the depth chart. McCann was a heck of a find by Rick Hahn last offseason, and having two good catchers is better than having one, especially considering the lineup permutations Rick Renteria might be forced to come up with if the White Sox front office opts for a DH rotation of Grandal, McCann, Jose Abreu and Zack Collins.

But McCann will be talked about on a variety of levels as the offseason goes on, too. If the White Sox could sell high on a guy who made the All-Star team last season — but who also batted just .226/.281/.413 in the second half — would they take that opportunity? Or will McCann stay on and serve as a personal catcher of sorts for Lucas Giolito after the duo had such incredible success in 2019? The White Sox have options, but no matter which path they end up traveling down with McCann, they'll almost surely do so after tendering him a contract Monday.

Leury Garcia

Another seeming no-brainer, Garcia is likely destined for the role of utility man on the 2020 roster after playing in 140 games in 2019 and starting in 135 of them. His projected $4 million is less than Sanchez's projected $6.2 million, and he can play all three outfield positions in addition to the three positions on the infield Sanchez can play. His .310 on-base percentage and relative light-hitting ways might not have been what some fans wanted to see from an everyday player last season, but as a guy off the bench once Luis Robert and Madrigal reach the major leagues, Garcia figures to be an asset for Renteria and the White Sox.

Evan Marshall

Marshall is also a seeming lock to get a contract tendered Monday after he was a key member of the White Sox late-inning corps in 2019. They picked him up as a minor league free agent, and he turned in a 2.49 ERA in 50.2 relief innings. Hahn is always reminding us about the volatility of relief pitching, so it's difficult to say we should expect a repeat performance from Marshall. But he's slated to hold a key bullpen position in 2020, as well, making him well worth a projected $1.3 million.

Carlos Rodon

The White Sox only have two years of team control remaining with Rodon before he's slated to hit free agency. Between the contract situation and all the significant arm injuries he's suffered in recent seasons, it's not at all easy to project him as a long-term member of the rotation. That being said, it would be shocking to see him non-tendered Monday. The team has suggested all along that he's still very much part of their plans. The White Sox are still hoping that even after a long layoff while recovering from Tommy John surgery that he can become the pitcher they envisioned he'd be when they took him with the No. 3 pick in the 2014 draft. That has been a bit of a challenge for Rodon, who's shown flashes of strikeout-heavy brilliance, as well as frustrating bouts of ineffectiveness. Prior to having the surgery this year, he had a 5.19 ERA in seven starts.

But the White Sox figure to crave all the starting pitching they can muster in 2020. On the hunt for a couple offseason additions, they also have plans to limit Michael Kopech — who's returning from his own Tommy John surgery — and can't be 100-percent certain what they'll get out of still-promising youngsters Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. The contributions of pitching prospects Dane Dunning and Jimmy Lambert remain mysteries, too, as they return from Tommy John in the middle of the season.

Bottom line: Whatever the White Sox can get out of Rodon in 2020, they'll happily take, making the projected $4.5 million seem plenty doable.

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Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

Why, with Yasmani Grandal, the White Sox spent big on a free-agent catcher

The White Sox made one heck of a free-agent splash Thursday, announcing a four-year deal with catcher Yasmani Grandal that at $73 million is the richest in club history.

The move is totally in line with everything the White Sox have talked about adding to the team: an impact player from outside the organization, a hitter with power and on-base skills that can slot into the middle of the lineup, a player who meshes with the long-term plans and who can help transition things from rebuilding mode to contention mode.

But it didn't address one of the team's stated positional needs: right field, designated hitter and starting pitcher.

Don't think for one second that's a critique of this deal. Everything about this signing screams "bingo" for the White Sox as they are likely just getting started in what's expected to be a busy offseason.

But there are some out there who might be asking, "Why would the White Sox spend big money on a catcher, a position they seemed to have filled, when they could spend that big money in more pressing areas?"

First off, priorities can change if new opportunities arise. The White Sox aren't taking anything off the table this offseason, and that included upgrading at catcher.

“You still want to be opportunistic,” general manager Rick Hahn said during the GM meetings last week in Arizona. “You can't control when certain opportunities arise, and we want to take advantage in the market and be flexible.”

The White Sox saw an opportunity with Grandal and made it happen.

"Still," you might wonder, "why at catcher, where the White Sox already had an All Star in James McCann?"

McCann, under team control for one more season, was an All Star in 2019, and he deserved it after a sensational first half that saw him slash .316/.371/.502, a dramatic transformation from his five years of mediocre offensive production with the Detroit Tigers. After the All-Star break, however, those numbers returned to what they looked like when he played for the division rivals, a .226/.281/.413 line in his final 55 games of the campaign.

But despite that midseason All-Star status, it is reasonable to ask: Which McCann will the White Sox get in 2020? They can count on his work ethic, one described as unlike anything his teammates have seen. They can count on his work with the pitching staff, especially Lucas Giolito, who heaped plenty of credit on McCann in a season that saw the young righty finish seventh in the AL Cy Young vote. But can they count on his bat?

They can count on Grandal's bat. He's got more home runs than any catcher in baseball since 2015 (117) and ranks third among big league catchers in RBIs (322) during the same span. He hit 20-plus homers in each of the last four seasons. In 2019, he hit a new career high in that department with 28 long balls, also reaching career highs in RBIs and walks, with 77 and 109, respectively. Those 109 bases on balls were the fourth most in baseball, with two of the only three players to walk more being Mike Trout and Alex Bregman. Grandal had more than double the amount of walks of Yolmer Sanchez, who led the White Sox with 44 of them in 2019.

Behind McCann, there were options, sure. But unknown ones.

Zack Collins was slated behind McCann on the depth chart, though he provided little insight into what kind of offensive or defensive player he’ll be at the big league level in two brief stints of major league service in 2019. The .323/.441/.631 line he put up at Triple-A Charlotte in between those two stints provides hope he can be an impactful offensive contributor somewhere in the White Sox lineup.

Seby Zavala is still on the 40-man roster, though he picked up only one hit and struck out nine times in a dozen trips to the plate in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it trip to the big leagues over the summer. Yermin Mercedes didn’t get the September call-up many fans were clamoring for after he hit an impressive .317/.388/.581 with 23 homers and 80 RBIs in the minors, and was guaranteed nothing more than a shot after the White Sox added him to the 40-man roster Wednesday, preventing another team from snapping him up in next month’s Rule 5 draft.

Grandal answers not just the immediate but the long-term questions about the catcher position. All the others — McCann, Collins, Zavala, Mercedes — could still factor into the mix. But Grandal takes a position that was a question mark and makes it an exclamation point.

The White Sox might have a solution at DH now, too. We'll have to see how confident Hahn is in a potential rotation there involving Grandal, Collins, McCann and Jose Abreu. But expect the White Sox to continue looking outside the organization for help in right field and in the starting rotation, at the least. Just because they didn't address those needs with their first addition of the winter doesn't mean they won't.

The White Sox need at catcher was nowhere near as pressing as needs elsewhere, true. But signing Grandal was an opportunity too good to pass up, and the White Sox capitalized with one of their biggest offseason splashes ever.

It makes all the sense in the world.

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