It’s only fitting that the catcher whose stock catapulted astronomically joins a team whose reputation is very much doing the same right now.
Just two years after being non-tendered by the Detroit Tigers, James McCann was officially introduced as the newest member of the New York Mets on Thursday afternoon after signing a four-year, $40.6 million deal as the second-best catcher available on the free-agent market this offseason.
“You never want to be told that you’re not wanted here… that’s what a non-tender is… but it was the best thing that could’ve happened for my career,” McCann said. .”Things happen for a reason and I”m a big believer of that… as hard it was to go through that… I look back now and can say things happened the exact way they were supposed to.”
Over the last two seasons, McCann revamped his game to become one of the best all-around catchers in the majors with the Chicago White Sox. He slashed .276/.334/.474 with 25 home runs and 75 RBI during that span (149 games) where the most important thing he did — as cliched as it sounds — was just to be himself.
“As much as a blessing as it was to play with guys like Miguel Cabrera, JD Martinez… Yoenis Cespedes… I found myself trying to imitate them,” he said. “I realized that I had to be content who James McCann is.
“I opened up my stance, I got more down into my legs, I moved my hands back closer to the launch position… I became a little more relaxed in my setup… I became content taking a single the other way… it’s a good thing. Over the course of 2019, those line-drive singles turned into line-drive doubles which turned into home runs.”
His offensive output is one of the reasons why he was one of the top catchers available on the market this offseason, but while speaking with McCann, it was clear very quickly that he took the most pride in his defense and calling an effective game.
“Especially in a day and age when everything is measured… there’s one thing that we haven’t as a baseball community come up with and that’s the value of the relationship between a catcher and pitcher,” he said. “The first part is just getting to know somebody. In the baseball world, it’s easy to know somebody on the field, sometimes it takes longer to get to know them off the field… What makes somebody tick, the easiest way to figure that out is by going through game-like experiences. Finding out what happens when there are runners on second and third in a one-run ballgame… that comes from experience.
Dealing with future Hall of Famers to dealing with rookies… it’s something I take a lot of pride in to figure out.”
He’ll soon be batterymates with a Mets staff that isn’t complete as of yet, but it’s anchored by one of the best pitchers in baseball in Jacob deGrom alongside Marcus Stroman, and soon enough, Noah Syndergaard.
“I’m very easygoing,” McCann said of how he works with pitchers. “A lot of times in my career, I’ve been around catchers who want something done ‘this way’ for every pitcher. Something I think is a strength of mine is that I’m not cookie-cutter.
“At the end of the day, my goal is to win and if that’s going to make him more comfortable, that’s something I’m going to do.”
The 30-year-old backstop certainly believes that the Mets are in a position to just that: win. And it didn’t take much to pique his interest in playing in Queens.
“One thing for me personally was really the direction that the New York Mets are headed in,” he said. “The moment we heard from them… they were definitely a team that was high on the list.
“The addition of the new owner, [team president Sandy Alderson], [general manager Jared Porter], all the above is trending in the right direction. That made the Mets a very attractive landing spot and just the conversations that were had throughout the course of the offseason… kind of pushed it over the edge and made it an easy decision.”
While he’s played in smaller markets throughout his career in Detroit and Chicago, McCann isn’t feeling the pressure of the bright lights of New York.
“There’s no bigger stage than New York and that’s something I’m very excited about,” McCann said. “There’s nobody in the world that has higher expectations of me than myself. That’s always how I’ve been, that’s part of the reason I was able to come out of the non-tender and perform the way I did.
“I look forward to the next four years as a New York Met and seeing how many championships we can get during our timeframe.”