James McCann went from backup to All Star and back again.
The White Sox upgraded at catcher this winter, adding Yasmani Grandal on a team-record contract. Make no mistake, Grandal’s signing is an inarguably good thing for the South Siders. He’s got a track record of success both at and behind the plate, with the winning experience necessary to help this team get to where it wants to be.
But it might not have been the best thing for McCann, individually, after he earned the starting job with what he accomplished in 2019, going from a career backup to a spot on the AL All-Star team.
Any frustration at returning to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart is more than understandable.
“There’s things about the business that you can’t control,” McCann said on the day pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch. “All you can control is how you handle your own self and how you handle your own preparations, and that was my main focus throughout the offseason and that will continue to be my main focus: how to make myself better and how to help the team win.”
Of course, even with Grandal slated to get the majority of the playing time behind the plate, McCann is still expected to play a valuable role on this White Sox team, one looking to play October baseball for the first time in more than a decade.
After all, two All-Star catchers are better than one, right?
“A hallmark of a good team is having quality depth,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “That's something we talked about from the start of being one of the goals that we set out to accomplish through this rebuild, and quite frankly, it was one of the things I've talked about publicly perhaps of not being entirely there yet in terms of organizational depth at certain spots. Catcher isn't one of those spots.
“We've got two All-Star caliber catchers, both of whom we anticipate contributing to a good club this summer.”
Independent of how often he’ll find his way into the lineup, whether McCann can produce at the same level that earned him an All-Star nod is very much an uncertainty. After slashing .316/.371/.502 in the first half last season, he struggled mightily after the All-Star break, hitting just .226/.281/.413. Those second-half numbers were far more in line with the numbers he put during his five years with the Detroit Tigers than what he did in his first few months with the White Sox.
That uncertainty is no longer a season-defining issue now that Grandal sits atop the catching depth chart, but McCann can obviously still have a positive effect on this team. In addition to simply providing depth, he showed last season a great ability to work with White Sox pitchers, particularly Lucas Giolito, and earned rave reviews from his teammates for his work ethic and dedication to game-planning.
“A pivotal role,” manager Rick Renteria said of how important a part McCann would play for the White Sox in 2020. “We have two catchers that are two All Stars, potentially.
“He’s an integral part of who we are as we move forward. … You can't run a catcher out there every single day. You can't expect one guy's going to catch 162 games. It's not gonna happen. I ran Mac out there trying to catch almost 162 games, and you start to break down a little bit.
“Having two guys who you can truthfully trust and being able to manage the pitching is a huge benefit to us, and we're happy that we have these two guys to balance us out.”
White Sox pitchers like Dallas Keuchel have touted the catching tandem as being an ultimate luxury. And for what it’s worth, both catchers said that having the two of them on the roster is a positive.
“James has been great,” Grandal said. “Obviously, I’ve needed him here just to go through a few things. For the most part, we’ve just been talking catching and how we can get in that aspect. … For me, it’s going to be how can I get in his head in order to kind of see it the same way and then we can talk about it and go from there.”
“It’s a good group,” McCann said. “Obviously Yaz strengthens that. I’m going to take stuff from him, as I’m sure he’ll be able to take some stuff from me. That’s what makes a team good, when guys can grow from each other and push each other.”
Who knows what will end up happening with McCann. The White Sox would figure to be better with him than without him, someone who does reliable work behind the plate and is capable of All-Star production with the bat, even if there’s no certainty those numbers will return in 2020.
But McCann is also slated to hit free agency at season’s end, and perhaps some team comes calling, putting the White Sox in a position to deal from a position of strength. After all, Zack Collins is still a part of this organization and its catching depth, a first-round pick who flourished offensively at Triple-A last season.
But for any understandable frustration that might be lingering, McCann spoke with the same type of confidence about the 2020 White Sox as everyone else during the early days of camp.
Heck, he might have come off more confident than anyone.
“If I said we weren’t trying to win a World Series, then I’d be lying,” he said. “It’s win now, and it’s not just get to the playoffs, it’s win a World Series.”
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