James McCann is Phillies’ best free-agent fallback option to J.T. Realmuto

Jim Salisbury
·3 min read

Phillies’ best free-agent fallback option to J.T. Realmuto originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Phillies spent over $700 million on free agents the last three offseasons. Spending all over baseball could be impacted this winter by revenues lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that's not going to stop us from taking a daily look these next few weeks at some free agents who would fill needs and help the Phillies get better.

Today: Catcher James McCann

Career to date

McCann is a former second-round pick of the Tigers who spent four-plus seasons mostly as a regular in Detroit. He moved on to the Chicago White Sox in 2019 and became an American League All-Star that season. The White Sox signed free-agent catcher Yasmani Grandal last winter and brought back McCann on a one-year deal. That created a strong catching tandem on the South Side but it won't be in place next season because McCann had a strong 2020 season just in time to hit the free-agent market at a time when a number of teams are looking for a No. 1 catcher.

McCann's defense is quite solid and pitchers in Chicago liked throwing to him. Over the last two seasons, he has 9 defensive runs saved (DRS), according to Fangraphs data. J.T. Realmuto has 11. Cleveland's Roberto Perez leads the majors with 36.

Overall, McCann is viewed as an offensive catcher. Over the last two seasons, he ranks second among big-league catchers in batting average (.288), fourth in on-base percentage (.346), fifth in OPS (.836) and seventh in homers (25).

2020 season

McCann put together a terrific walk season with the White Sox. He hit .289 with an .896 OPS, both career bests. He hit seven homers and drove in 15 runs.

McCann was behind the plate for Lucas Giolito's no-hitter against Pittsburgh in August. Giolito had high praise for his catcher afterward.

"It was one of those nights where we were really in sync," Giolito said in his postgame news conference. "Like, I had the grip ready to go, and he was putting the signs down. Obviously, the relationship we have on and off the field is stupendous. I mean, I can't say enough good things about him. He was such a huge part of what happened tonight."

How he'd impact the Phillies

The Phillies are on record as saying they'd like to re-sign Realmuto. Will they spend the money needed to lock up the best all-around catcher on the market or will Realmuto land the big deal he's looking for elsewhere? These are questions that might take all winter to answer and they're complicated by a drop in revenues all over the game because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If a union between the Phillies and Realmuto can't be struck, McCann would be a nice fallback option. Though he's not the all-around player that Realmuto is, he's someone who can come in and catch 120 games and provide offense that compares favorably to what the Phillies have had the last two seasons. 

McCann's price tag would also be lower than Realmuto's and that could potentially allow the Phillies to spread their budget around and address multiple holes.

Contract outlook

McCann will turn 31 in June. He should have a very healthy market for several reasons: He has been productive; a number of teams, including the Mets, Yankees, Nationals and Phillies, are looking for a starting catcher; and he could be significantly more affordable than Realmuto at a time when many teams are tightening their belts. A three-year deal in the neighborhood of $30 million seems about right.

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