James McCann losing grip on starting job after signing $40 million deal

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The one position the Mets clearly had to upgrade from last season is still a work in progress.

James McCann has brought a presence at catcher and big arm, but offensively appears lost – even more so than the team’s star shortstop – and his pitch framing hasn’t been what the Mets might have anticipated.

The veteran catcher will take a disappointing .202/.269/.242 slash line with one homer and eight RBIs into Friday game’s in Miami. Statcast places him in the 28th percentile among catchers for his pitch framing.

It’s hardly what team officials had in mind when they bypassed the top free-agent catcher on the market, J.T. Realmuto, and signed McCann to a four-year contract worth $40.6 million. Team president Sandy Alderson at the time indicated the Mets didn’t want to risk a protracted negotiation with Realmuto and the possibility of getting shut out in the market if they missed on him.

McCann has enjoyed some level of protection early, his struggles obscured by Francisco Lindor’s lack of productivity at the plate. The shortstop, who agreed to a 10-year contract extension worth $341 million before the season, owns a .189/.301/.280 slash line as maybe the biggest factor in an underperforming lineup that ranks 29th in the major leagues in scoring at 3.51 runs per game. But McCann’s troubles can’t be overlooked.

“He looking for himself out there,” manager Luis Rojas said. “He’s just spinning right now, missing some pitches to hit and we saw it, it was right there but since he’s spinning off he’s able to have the bat come in and out of the zone too quick, and that is where he’s missing the balls.”

The Mets have another option in Tomas Nido, who has provided punch over the last week. Nido followed a three-hit game against the Braves with a go-ahead homer in the ninth on Tuesday before delivering a pinch-hit single for two runs in Wednesday’s loss.
Nido also provides a strong option behind the plate, with a framing rate that ranks in the 94th percentile among MLB catchers, according to Statcast.

“He is going to get more playing time and he’s finding himself the way he is playing,” Rojas said. “He is catching and he’s been swinging the bat real good. McCann is doing a good job catching too. Both guys are catching good, but Nido is swinging the bat real good and he’s also catching good, so he is going to get a little more playing time now.”

Nido showed promise early last season before contracting COVID-19 and spending the final six weeks on the injured list. With team officials unhappy with Wilson Ramos’ decline in offensive production and his lack of mobility behind the plate and questions about Nido, the focus turned toward McCann early in the offseason. Realmuto ultimately re-signed with the Phillies for five years and $115.5 million.

At the very least, the Mets could be headed toward a job share behind the plate, the likes of which McCann had with the White Sox last season with Yasmani Grandal’s arrival.

“(McCann) is like my brother, he is a brother and we’re all family here,” Nido said. “When he’s in there I root for him and when I’m in there he roots for me … It goes back to the bond we have as a team and that’s my brother. We go out to battle every day, no matter who is in the lineup we’re picking each other up and we’re rooting for each other.”

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