The Orioles search for a veteran backup catcher for 2023 seems to have been settled. The team acquired catcher James McCann from the New York Mets, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported late on Wednesday night. It’s not a major trade, as MLB’s Mark Feinsand added that the return the Orioles are giving up is merely a player to be named later. The team announced the move shortly after the reports surfaced.
The corresponding move in this trade is that infielder Tyler Nevin has been designated for assignment. Nevin, 25, was brought to the Orioles in the Mychal Givens trade with the Rockies two years ago, and departs from the 40-man roster on the same day the O’s officially re-signed Givens. How’s that for symmetry? He’s posted a .604 OPS in 64 big league games. It’s hard to see a path for him onto the 2023 roster, even if there’s an injury to multiple corner infielders ahead of him, unless he suddenly starts hitting a lot better.
In keeping with the offseason pattern of Orioles acquisitions, there is not a whole lot about this move that will generate immediate excitement. McCann played in 61 games for the Mets last season and batted .195/.257/.282. If he reverts to closer to his career total across nine MLB seasons, that would be better: McCann’s batting line in the league is .243/.296/.380. He was an All-Star once, in 2019 when he was with the White Sox. McCann finished with a .789 OPS that year.
McCann excelled at controlling the running game at times in his career, averaging 34% of would-be stealers thrown out - though if you look solely at 2022, that was only a 24% figure, right about league average.
In the other important area of catcher defense these days, McCann rated decently this year - he was in the 62nd percentile for catcher pitch framing, according to Statcast. That’s one area where McCann handily tops Chirinos, who was literally a 1st percentile framer, marking him as one of the worst, if not the worst, in all of the league. For McCann, it added up to -0.1 bWAR in this season. Not exciting. His 0.4 fWAR is only mildly more exciting.
A big question will be whether there’s any chance of a slight revival in his age 33 season. This is certainly a case of buying low on a player. Maybe they’re not crazy if they think he can do better. McCann is in that Ryan Mountcastle category where his x-stats were way better than his actual stats.
McCann’s expected batting average was .240 and his expected slugging percentage was .414. If his batted ball profile continues to be that good, he could bounce back some. On the other hand, he’s a right-handed batter who’s now headed for regular appointments with Walltimore. Maybe it’s foolish to think there will be any rebound for either McCann or Mountcastle.
The Mets were surely hoping for better than what they’ve gotten when they signed him to a four-year contract worth about $41 million two years ago. McCann is owed about another $24 million for 2023 and 2024. According to Feinsand, the Orioles will be assuming $5 million of the remaining money owed to McCann.
The willingness to absorb a little money is probably why the Orioles are able to get away with “only” trading a PTBNL, though of course who knows - the player could develop into someone consequential with time, even if it’s not a notable name right now.
With Mets owner Steve Cohen having gone ham on the free agent market this offseason, shedding $5 million is expected to save the Mets a total of $8 million, counting the competitive balance tax penalty. Time will tell us if the Orioles have pulled a savvy little move here in taking advantage of a team looking to shed some effectively dead money.