James McCann

Should the White Sox trade James McCann?

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USA TODAY

Should the White Sox trade James McCann?

Here’s a question that made no sense as recently as mid November: Should the White Sox trade James McCann?

Then Yasmani Grandal came along, secured the No. 1 catcher’s job for the next four years, and suddenly McCann’s future, short-term instead of long-term, became a relevant discussion topic.

With Grandal behind the plate for the foreseeable future and Edwin Encarnacion — whose one-year free-agent deal with the South Siders has been reported but not announced — stepping in as the team’s primary designated hitter, that doesn’t leave a ton of starts for a guy who earned such a role with his performance in 2019. It might make him seem expendable, or at the very least a primo trade chip.

And indeed, a surplus of All-Star catchers sounds like an area Rick Hahn could deal from in order to get his ready-to-contend roster in even better shape as spring training approaches. The general manager said his focus would be on bolstering the bullpen now that he’s made so many additions elsewhere, and what better way to acquire a top-notch relief arm or two — or a platoon partner to go along with Nomar Mazara in right field — than by dangling an All-Star backstop?

Obviously, as Hahn has made a habit of mentioning, hypothetical trades depend on what the White Sox receive in return. If Hahn can get the bullpen improvement he seeks, maybe that deal gets done. When assessing whether that sort of return is possible, McCann's trade value will undoubtedly be affected by his second-half dip in production and the fact that he's slated to hit free agency following the 2020 season.

But here’s the thing: McCann, not traded, has plenty of value to the White Sox as they look to compete for a playoff spot in 2020.

Acquiring Grandal was, in part, such a good move, despite McCann’s presence, because it provided a reliability that McCann couldn’t. Despite an All-Star first half in 2019 (a .316/.371/.502 slash line), he didn’t produce at that level after the break (a .226/.281/.413 slash line). His second-half numbers were far more in line with what he did for five seasons as a Detroit Tiger than what he did in a few months with the White Sox.

Grandal brings a resume of consistent offensive production, and he puts up strong defensive numbers. Framing might not be a valuable trait for much longer, should the robot revolution reach the umpiring ranks, but while it is, Grandal ranks highly in the category and McCann ranks near the bottom.

Certainly there’s some level of disappointment for McCann, who in 2019 was the first All-Star catcher on the South Side since A.J. Pierzynski. But McCann is one of those team-first guys the White Sox seem to have in droves these days, the kind of guy who will tell an assemblage of reporters that he’ll play shortstop if the team wants him to — don't worry, there’s no chance the White Sox will want McCann to play shortstop. Of course, that hasn’t stopped Jose Abreu from taking grounders there before every game.

McCann established himself as a leader for the 89-loss White Sox last season with an unparalleled work ethic that earned rave reviews from current and former teammates alike. His work as a game-planner was cited as a tremendous benefit to a young pitching staff, and he earned plaudits for his role in Lucas Giolito’s remarkable turnaround that sent the pitcher to the All-Star Game alongside his battery mate.

Those leadership skills don’t have to go away just because McCann’s no longer at the top of the depth chart, either. You might remember a certain backup catcher who played a significant role on a championship team in this city. If you don’t know who I’m referring to, just drive up to the North Side and see whose name is on the manager’s office.

The point being that having two really good catchers is better than having one, and if you're a team fighting for a spot in the playoffs, having an All-Star catcher behind the plate every day is better than having an All-Star catcher behind the plate five out of six days.

“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 White Sox signed Grandal. “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.”

McCann remains a veteran catcher who works well with the pitching staff and showed — if not for as long as he would’ve liked — that he can swing the bat. Sounds like a description of an ideal No. 2 catcher, no?

Maybe someone rings up Hahn and presents him with a deal that brings back tremendous value to the bullpen or an attractive bat to go along with Mazara. Maybe he feels good enough about Zack Collins' potential as a No. 2 catcher in the big leagues that pulling the trigger on such a trade wouldn't be all that difficult. But McCann seems to be the perfect No. 2 catcher on a very good team, and that's what the White Sox are trying to be as they shift out of rebuilding mode and into contending mode. And so keeping him as a part of that transition makes an awful lot of sense.

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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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