The Mets won’t regret landing James McCann as their upgrade at catcher instead of J.T. Realmuto, if that’s the direction they choose.
That’s according to ex-Met Joe McEwing, who has been a coach with the White Sox for the past decade — including the last two seasons when McCann was in Chicago.
“He’s the ultimate pro, on and off the field,’’ McEwing said by phone on Friday. “He’s a leader and runs the pitching staff like a second manager.”
Realmuto remains a possibility to land in Queens. But with other high-priced free agents George Springer and Trevor Bauer still available and expected to, like Realmuto, fetch contracts worth over $100 million at over $20 million per season, McCann could prove to be a solid alternative at a position of need. McCann also would cost considerably less than Realmuto but still wouldn’t come cheap.
Some observers believe the drop-off is not steep from Realmuto to McCann and very possibly worth the savings, with McCann more in line for a three- or four-year deal in the $30 million-$40 million range.
“He’s not at Realmuto’s level, but it’s close enough that, if you’re looking to fill other holes, McCann makes a lot of sense, so you can spend elsewhere,’’ said one AL executive.
After a dreadful season in Detroit in 2018, when McCann had an OPS of .581 and was designated for assignment, he rebounded with a pair of strong years in Chicago, accumulating numbers similar to what Realmuto put up in Philadelphia over the same period.
McCann’s OPS of .789 in 2019 and .986 in the shortened 2020 regular season compare favorably to Realmuto’s .820 and .840 marks over the past two years, and McCann’s defensive metrics have improved, as well.
At the plate, McEwing said McCann went back to basics after he arrived in Chicago, following his brutal final season with Detroit.
“He got caught up in launch angle and hitting home runs and saw things went the other way,’’ said McEwing, who is set to be the White Sox’s third base coach in 2021.
The offseason before he got to Chicago, McCann began making a “huge” adjustment.
“He changed his approach and his swing and got results,’’ McEwing said. “He simplified things and tried not to get big with everything and, instead, hit the ball up the middle and hit mistakes for homers.”
That led to a terrific first half in 2019, when McCann was an All-Star, before he struggled from July on, which McEwing blamed on a heavy workload.
McEwing, though, believes McCann is suited to a full-time role. Since the White Sox already have Yasmani Grandal, it makes sense for McCann to look elsewhere.
There won’t be a shortage of suitors for McCann, with the Cardinals an option if they don’t bring back Yadier Molina, as well as the Angels and the Phillies, if Realmuto leaves.
The Mets, according to sources, remain engaged with McCann, but a signing does not appear imminent.
McCann will be a presence on the field and in the clubhouse wherever he lands, McEwing said.
“The way he communicates with the [pitching] staff and teammates, you won’t have to worry about anything,’’ McEwing said. “He wants that responsibility.”
And he provides what McEwing called the “Holy Grail” when it comes to relaying new information to pitchers in a relatable way.
“He’s a bridge to analytics,” McEwing said. “Being able to combine the information with the human element, he knows how to get the best out of each individual. And when they don’t have something, he adjusts.”
And following years of playing in Detroit and Chicago, McEwing — who played five seasons for the Mets from 2000-04 — is confident McCann won’t melt under the New York spotlight.
“I don’t think he’ll be affected by it,’’ McEwing said. “He’s a simple guy, a family guy, and he has a lot of confidence. He can handle New York.’’
— Additional reporting by Ken Davidoff