With free agency officially underway here at Reviewing the Brew we will examine a few free agent targets that may be a good fit for the Milwaukee Brewers. Today, we will look at catcher James McCann.
James McCann spent the last two seasons with the Chicago White Sox and coincidentally enough it was the departure of Yasmani Grandal from the Brewers to the White Sox that essentially has led to McCann hitting the open market.
The White Sox acquiring Grandal was a bit of a shock seeing how McCann had an All Star season in 2019 in which he slashed .273/.328/.460/.896. Regardless, McCann is now one of a select few catchers on the free agent market who is viewed as an everyday catcher.
When Grandal left the Brewers, they elected to replace him by trading for Omar Narvaez. Narvaez was viewed a very skilled offensive catcher and was coming off a 22 home run season with the Mariners.
Unfortunately, 2020 struck again as it turned out Narvaez had a dreadful offensive season, Manny Pina missed substantial time with injury, and the Brewers had to rely primarily on Jacob Nottingham as the season progressed.
With all the uncertainty currently surrounding the Brewers catching situation, James McCann could be an option for them as they shop around the free agent market. McCann will likely be looking for a team in which he would be the everyday catcher, so how the Brewers proceed with managing the contracts of Narvaez and Pina will have a big impact on if they pursue him or not.
Why should the Brewers look at acquiring James McCann and making him the everyday catcher?
Although his numbers do not jump out at you offensively, McCann’s offense has been progressing over the past two seasons. Ranked against opposing catchers in that span he is second in batting average (.288), fourth in on-base percentage (.346), and fifth in OPS (.836) and seventh in home runs (25).
In addition to hitting more home runs, he is hitting the ball harder and his slugging percentage and on base plus slugging percentages have been career highs over the past two seasons. He also walked at a career high 7.2% in 2020. All of his evidence leads him to be viewed more of an offensive catcher, who at 30 years old is on the rise.
The realistic expectation of James McCann in a batting order would be a solid bat in the middle of the lineup. He would not be expected to be the slugging cleanup hitter or two spot table-setter like how the Brewers used Grandal in 2019. Rather, he would ideally be a good contributor in the middle the lineup. In 2019, his All-Star season, he was found anywhere from fourth to seventh in the lineup in a season where he had 60 runs batted in and 18 home runs.
Defensively, McCann is solid. According to Fangraphs he has nine defensive runs saved over the past two seasons. That being said, he did lose quite a bit of playing time at catcher in 2020 due to Yasmani Grandal getting most of the playing time at that position.
According to Baseball Savant, James McCann is ranked in the 88th percentile in pitch framing. Pitchers like throwing to him and his ability to gain extra strikes would be of great benefit to an already strong Milwaukee Brewers pitching staff.
The biggest question regarding McCann is how much will he sign for? After an All-Star 2019 season, he signed a 1 year $5.4MM deal with the White Sox in arbitration, which was the most he had made in a single season. However, if other clubs, like the Phillies who are poised to lose catcher J.T. Realmuto, wish to sign him long term they might be willing to offer him closer to $8-10MM per year.
Given the Brewers financial constraints, $8-10MM per year does not seem like a feasible option, but maybe McCann will not be satisfied with that price and will seek out a one year prove-it deal. If the Brewers shed more salary and move on from one or both of Pina and Narvaez, that could make acquiring McCann seem more feasible.
Regardless, James McCann is going to sign as an everyday catcher with somebody this off-season and the Brewers would likely have to move on from Narvaez and/or Pina if they wish to pursue him short term or long term.