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Angels narrowly lose to Mets in trying to sign catcher James McCann

Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann slides into home plate with his hands up.
Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann scores against the Oakland Athletics in Game 3 of an American League wild-card playoff game Oct. 1.
(Eric Risberg / Associated Press)

After weeks spent negotiating a potential deal to bring aboard a veteran backstop, the Angels on Saturday narrowly missed an opportunity to add former Chicago White Sox catcher James McCann to their roster.

McCann, 30, reportedly agreed to sign with the New York Mets for a four-year contract estimated at about $40 million. The Angels made a push to match the offer but maxed out at a three-year commitment, according to a person with knowledge who was not authorized to speak publicly about the deal.

That the Angels came close to signing McCann, who grew up in Santa Barbara County, hints at a potential change in philosophy under new general manager Perry Minasian. The Angels tended not to invest in offense-first catchers during former general manager Billy Eppler’s tenure, choosing instead to rely on players with strong defensive acumens. They also divvied responsibilities between two catchers each of the last two seasons.

No MLB team is selling tickets to spring training because no one knows when it might start, or for that matter when the regular season might start.

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McCann spent 2020 backing up former Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal. He would have been the primary catcher for the Angels.

McCann batted .276 with 29 doubles, one triple and 25 homers in 536 at-bats from 2019-20 with the White Sox. He would have boosted an Angels lineup that last season ranked ninth in MLB in runs (294) and 12th in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.762).

McCann showed in an abbreviated season that he could hit and defend well, batting .289 with an .886 OPS while ranking eighth in Baseball Savant’s framing metrics with a 51.4% strike rate. But he does not have a long track record of success in either category. He was released by the scuffling Detroit Tigers after performing below-average behind the plate and batting .240 with 58 doubles, eight triples and 40 homers over 1,536 at-bats from 2014-18.

Jose Soriano of the Angels was taken first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Brett de Geus of the Dodgers was chosen next, by the Texas Rangers.

He tapped into his power with the White Sox and was named an All-Star in 2019, but his defense still rated poorly his first season in Chicago. He finished the season ranked 56th in framing after converting only 45% of non-swing pitches into called strikes.

If the Angels still want to add a catcher who provides offensive upside, they could go after two-time All-Star J.T. Realmuto. However, Realmuto is the top position player available in free agency and is believed to be targeting a nine-figure contract. He is likely out of the price range of the Angels, who are committed to retooling a pitching staff that posted a ghastly 5.09 earned-run average in 2020.

Etc.

Longtime baseball executive Gene Watson will join Minasian’s front office as a special advisor. Watson interviewed for the Angels general manager job that went to Minasian last month. Watson had been with the Kansas City Royals since 2006. He became their director of pro scouting in 2012 and was named an assistant to general manager Dayton Moore in 2018. Watson is a well-regarded scout and has been part of two World Series-winning teams (2003 with the Florida Marlins and 2015 with the Royals). His professional baseball career started when he joined the Texas Rangers stadium operations staff in 1989. While there, his path crossed with a young Minasian, who worked in Rangers clubhouses run by Minasian’s father in the 1990s and early 2000s.


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