The White Sox went out and got a franchise catcher last offseason.
This offseason, everyone wants to know if they’ll be able to keep the other catcher on the 2020 roster.
James McCann is about to hit free agency, and considering what he’s meant to this team the last two seasons, the White Sox would be wise to bring him back. But it’s never that easy in free agency, where 29 other teams will have a shot at signing the All Star.
"We felt like we were taken in like family," McCann said last week. "Having success here and really coming into my own as a player, I’ll always look back on my time here in Chicago regardless of what happens in the future.
"That’s kind of tomorrow’s problem."
Well, tomorrow's here.
Why the White Sox need to re-sign James McCann
It goes beyond his offensive numbers. But obviously his offensive numbers are good.
There were questions about what he’d be able to do after he followed up his All-Star first half in 2019 with a woeful second half, and that’s part of what made the Yasmani Grandal signing such a good one. Obviously Grandal’s a great player in his own right, but he provided a dependability that McCann couldn’t, necessarily, given the Jekyll-and-Hyde way his numbers looked in 2019.
Well, playing in 31 of the team’s 60 regular-season games in 2020, McCann followed up that All-Star season brilliantly. His rate stats were up across the board, with a .289/.360/.536 slash line, giving him an .896 OPS that was more than 100 points higher than it was in 2019. McCann homered seven times in 2020. Extrapolated to the 118 games he played in 2019, that’s more than 26 home runs. Only twice in White Sox history has a catcher hit more than 26 home runs in a single season.
But it goes beyond the numbers. McCann has been an integral part of this team as it’s ascended out of rebuilding mode and into contention mode. He’s helped Lucas Giolito, the staff ace, transform into one of the finest arms in baseball, and he was behind the plate for Giolito’s no-hitter.
“Mac, we call him ‘The Captain.’ One of the leaders of our team, vocally and by example,” Giolito said of McCann last month. “I think that for him, whenever he gets in the game, he’s locked in. He knows what he has to do to be able to manage the pitcher he has on the mound, be able to manage his at-bats, give us quality ABs no matter where he’s hitting or no matter how often he’s playing. He has a very good attitude about that.
“He’s able to contribute every single time he gets on the field and even when he’s not on the field.”
Sounds like an important piece of the puzzle.
Why it will be hard for the White Sox to re-sign James McCann
All that stuff? It’s good. Really good. It’s the kind of stuff that makes someone a No. 1 catcher in Major League Baseball. McCann has earned the opportunity to top a depth chart, and if he comes back to the White Sox, he won’t. It’s as simple as that.
The White Sox gave Grandal the richest free-agent contract in club history last offseason to be their No. 1 catcher for the next half decade. And while folks were right to be thrilled by what McCann was able to do in 2020, it’s important to realize that Grandal was pretty good, too.
He put up a .351 on-base percentage that ranked third among qualified White Sox hitters, behind only José Abreu and Tim Anderson. He was fourth on the team in RBIs, sixth in home runs and led the team in walks. Fangraphs assessed Grandal as the second best defensive catcher in baseball in 2020. And in three postseason games, he hit a couple of home runs, drew four walks and drove in four runs.
That’s not to say the White Sox wouldn’t want McCann back. They’d love to continue to have the luxury of two All-Star backstops. And maybe they could figure out a way to give McCann the playing time he deserves in a catcher-DH-first base rotation involving him, Grandal and Abreu. Though where would that leave top-ranked prospect Andrew Vaughn?
The free-agent market is entirely unpredictable in the aftermath of a season without paying customers in the stands. Perhaps the White Sox could take advantage.
But when other suitors come calling in free agency with starting jobs to offer, even a creative solution to playing time and a strong financial commitment from the White Sox might not be able to top what McCann’s earned: a starting job.