The Mets need a new catcher. While Wilson Ramos did a nice job in 2019, he regressed in 2020. That is why the Mets cut ties with him after the season. While there are several intriguing options, James McCann is the best suited for the job with the Mets.
This is the right but not the popular decision. With JT Realmuto available on the free agent market, it is bold to say that McCann is the better choice. While Realmuto has been great and will probably be good for a few more years, he is entering his age 30 season. This is important. In today’s game, catchers have a way of not aging gracefully. What happened to Wilson Ramos was no fluke. Have a look at Buster Posey. He was considered to be the best catcher of this generation but at age 31, his power numbers dropped off. The following season, he was a below average hitter. At the age of 29, Salvador Perez missed all of 2019 with an injury. Yan Gomes was an all-star in 2018 at age 30. The following year the Nationals picked him up and his numbers declined. He ended up splitting time with Kurt Suzuki. Jonathan Lucroy and Matt Wieters were both studs until they reached age 31. Even if you think that Realmuto is the new Buster Posey, it gives the Mets only one more great and another good season.
There are some exceptions to this rule. The most obvious is Yadier Molina. At age 37, he batted .262 while playing above average defense. However, he too declined from his zenith. In the six seasons from age 26-31, Molina had an average WAR of 4.3. The average WAR of 1.6 in the six following seasons is nothing to rave about. Molina has been steadily declining since 2016. Yasmani Grandal has also been going strong through his age 31 season but this year will be a real test for him.
The issue with Realmuto is money and years. He is projected to earn in the area of $25 million a year for 5-6 years. That is risky. As stated above, two good seasons is reasonable. After that, the Mets could end up with a behemoth of a contract on their hands. They will not be as cashed strapped as they were during the Wilpon era. Nevertheless, big spenders don’t like to have guys earning over $20 million a year and not contributing.
With this in mind, McCann is the best option. For starters, unlike Realmuto, McCann did not get a qualifying offer. The team that signs him doesn’t have to forfeit a draft pick. Ramos was entering his age 31 season in 2019 as is McCann entering 2021 which means that they will likely have similar contracts. Like Ramos, McCann is not expected to start more than 110 games. He hasn’t had the injury problems that Ramos had, but has never played more than 118 games in a season. In addition, McCann doesn’t have a long track record of offensive success. Rather, he has a short track record of success. His first five seasons with Detroit were mediocre compared to his last two with the White Sox.
When comparing McCann to other catchers in MLB, he is probably one of the top hitters. Consider where he ranks among the 38 catchers in the last two seasons who have played in at least 100 games.
McCann will likely bat lower down in the Mets lineup as he does not need to be the big bat. Defensively, the Mets need a guy like McCann behind the dish. Throughout his career, he’s been very good at throwing runners out.
However, McCann brings another advantage to the Mets. The guy is a good cheater and can get away with it. While he was always considered to be an above average pitch framer, in 2020 he took it to another level. Here is an article which includes video evidence of how good McCann was. According to baseball savant, McCann was the 9th best catcher at framing in 2020. He got a score of 51.3% of what are considered ‘shadow zone’ pitches that can go either way. Realmuto was a bit higher at 51.9%. However, the best example of McCann’s success came in the August no-hitter he caught for Lucas Giolito. In that game all pitches with at least a 50% chance of being called strikes, were in fact called strikes. Of pitchers with a probability under 50%, four of them were called strikes. This means that he not only helps get extra strikes but doesn’t lose any that should be called strikes.
Under Steve Cohen, the Mets want to create an organization built around sustained success. One of the key components is developing minor leaguers. Currently, the Mets have Francisco Alvarez in the lower levels of the minors. Alvarez is currently considered to be the fourth best catching prospect in baseball and the 58th best prospect overall. In 2019 (age 17), he absolutely tore up rookie ball. Alvarez slashed .312/.407/.510 with 7 homers in just 42 games. He is projected to reach the majors in 2023. This means that the Mets should be looking to sign McCann to a 2-3-year contract in order to pave the way for Alvarez. If the Mets commit 5-6 years to Realmuto, one of three things can happen:
- Best case: Realmuto is still a good catcher in 2023 and will be blocking Alvarez.
- Medium case: Realmuto will have an effective bat but is no longer able to catch everyday. Alvarez will catch most games while Realmuto will DH, be the backup catcher and/or play some first base.
- Worst case: Realmuto will be an ineffective player and Alvarez will just replace him. The Mets eat Realmuto’s contract.
In all three cases, it makes more sense to just have a guy like McCann as the starting catcher for the next 2-3 years. Realmuto is a good catcher, but he is entering free agency right around his peak. It is doubtful that the Mets will get many productive years out of him. Lastly, there is one strange fact about Realmuto. The guy has never been a winner. Not only has he never been to the playoffs, but he has never played for a team that finished above .500 on the season. Moreover, many of those teams have been loaded with superstar bats. The Marlins had Stanton, Yelich, Ozuna, Prado and Gordon. The Phillies had Harper, McCutchen, Segura, Hoskins and Gregorius. Both teams lost due to lack of pitching. At some point, you have to wonder if the issue is the catcher.
(David Weiss is a lifelong Mets fan. He has lived in Israel since 2008 and runs the Facebook page Jewish Mets Fans.)