Phillies: James McCann worth signing if J.T. Realmuto leaves

James McCann #33 of the Chicago White Sox (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
James McCann #33 of the Chicago White Sox (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

If the Phillies miss out on J.T. Realmuto, the team should shift their focus to fellow free-agent catcher James McCann.

The Philadelphia Phillies should make signing J.T. Realmuto their top priority this offseason. That much is clear.

The perennial All-Star reportedly would like to return to Philadelphia, according to NBC Sports Philadelphia’s Jim Salisbury, who adds Realmuto is “not particularly keen on playing in New York” next season. That bodes well for the Phillies, but they’ll still have to offer Realmuto a mega-contract if they want him to come back in 2021.

However, if the Phillies do miss out on re-signing Realmuto, there is only one other free agent catcher who could significantly improve the team — James McCann.

McCann began his career with the Detroit Tigers in 2014, but his true break-out came in 2019, in his first season with the Chicago White Sox. He earned a trip to the All-Star Game that summer and finished the year with a 2.3 fWAR and a 3.7 bWAR.

Unfortunately, he saw his playing time diminish in 2020 after the White Sox signed another All-Star catcher — Yasmani Grandal. Despite splitting time with Grandal, McCann was still an excellent player for the White Sox in 2020, slashing .289/.360/.536 with seven home runs in only 31 games.

Over the past two seasons, he is first among AL catchers in bWAR (4.9), and second among AL catchers in fWAR (3.8) and Defensive Runs Saved (9). In other words, he’s been really good both at and behind the plate.

Thus, McCann will surely be looking for a team that will make him their full-time catcher, and that team could be the Phillies. If Philadelphia can’t sign Realmuto, they’ll have as big a hole at catcher as anyone.

While Realmuto is clearly the superior player, there are some advantages to signing McCann instead. McCann is only a few months months older than Realmuto, but he’s played almost 100 fewer games as catcher over his Major League career, which means the position has likely taken less of a toll on his legs.

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Furthermore, McCann has been very healthy. While he spent time on the injured list in 2016 and 2017, both stints were short and both were caused by freak accidents, rather than worrisome health conditions. Realmuto, on the other hand, has dealt with back and leg injuries each of the past three seasons. He missed significant time down the stretch in 2020 with hip discomfort.

Another upside is that McCann will likely demand a shorter contract than will Realmuto. While Realmuto is hoping to get a six-year deal, I can’t foresee McCann seeking any more than a four-year contract. That means paying him for his ages 30 to 33 seasons, which will likely be his last productive seasons as a catcher.

Personally, I think Realmuto is still the better option for the Phillies. He’s a more talented player than McCann, he has already formed a relationship with the Phillies pitching staff, and he has already endeared himself to the fans here in Philadelphia. There isn’t a single free agent the Phillies could sign that would put more fans in the seats next year. But, if the Phillies decide they don’t have the cash, signing McCann is their next best option.

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