Finding a suitable backup for Adley Rutschman was one of the items atop the Orioles’ wishlist for the rest of the offseason. They acquired one before the first official day of winter came to an end.
Late Wednesday, Baltimore acquired catcher James McCann and cash from the New York Mets for a player to be named. McCann, 32, has two years and $24 million remaining on a four-year, $40.6 million contract he signed with the Mets before the 2021 season, with MLB.com reporting the Orioles will pay $5 million of that without surrendering a prospect of significance.
It’s the first deal in Mike Elias’ four-plus years as Baltimore’s executive vice president and general manager in which the Orioles traded a player to acquire one with more than a year of major league service time.
In his nine-year career with the Detroit Tigers, Chicago White Sox and Mets, McCann has hit .243 with a .676 OPS. He was an All-Star with Chicago in 2019, his only season with an above-average OPS+. In 2022, he hit .195/.257/.282 with three home runs in 61 games, though McCann’s expected statistics, based on quality of contact, suggest he experienced some poor luck. His expected batting average was .244, with an expected slugging percentage of .414, both in line with his career performances, according to Baseball Savant.
McCann figures to serve as a backup to Rutschman, who Elias said during the winter meetings earlier this month would catch no more than 125 games in his first full major league season. Before the trade, Rutschman was the only catcher on Baltimore’s 40-man roster. McCann has also played nine games, six of them starts, at first base over the past two seasons, with a backup there for Ryan Mountcastle another area of need for the Orioles.
He also could serve as a designated hitter in some matchups with left-handed pitchers, given the Orioles’ other options for that role beyond their starters are left-handed hitters and fourth outfielder Ryan McKenna.
In 2022, the Orioles were 33-45 in games in which someone other than Rutschman was their starting catcher, including a 17-21 record with him on the roster. Improving in that regard could prove vital to getting Baltimore into the playoffs. McCann is a significant defensive upgrade over Rutschman’s previous backup, Robinson Chirinos, who ranked last among 60 qualified catchers in framing borderline pitches into strikes, according to Baseball Savant. McCann was tied with Philadelphia Phillies star J.T. Realmuto for 22nd, while Rutschman ranked 10th. McCann had a similar poptime on throws to second as Chirinos, but his average exchange time was quicker and his best throws were an average of almost 2 mph faster.
Adding McCann as an upgrade over Chirinos continues a trend of the Orioles’ offseason, in which they have made incremental improvements on last year’s moves. Having signed starting pitcher Jordan Lyles, second baseman Rougned Odor and Chirinos to one-year deals before last season, the Orioles have brought in starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, second baseman Adam Frazier and McCann, with that trio alone accounting for almost a third of Baltimore’s projected opening day payroll. Earlier Wednesday, the Orioles also reunited with reliever Mychal Givens on a one-year deal with an option for 2024.
In the case of all four, they are the highest-paid players Baltimore has acquired at their positions under Elias. The moves, in conjunction with expected arbitration raises, have the Orioles’ opening day payroll projected to be about 50% higher than 2022′s season-opening mark. Moving McCann, meanwhile, saves the Mets about $8 million given their competitive balance tax situation.
Under owner Steve Cohen, New York has been far and away the league’s most aggressive spender this offseason, with their moves including retaining closer Edwin Díaz and center fielder Brandon Nimmo, signing starting pitchers Justin Verlander and Kodai Senga, and coming to a shocking agreement with infielder Carlos Correa hours after his introductory press conference with the San Francisco Giants was canceled. Before trading McCann, the Mets’ tax payment was higher than the estimated opening day payroll of a third of the teams in the majors, including the Orioles.
To create space for McCann on the 40-man roster, the Orioles designated infielder Tyler Nevin for assignment. The son of Los Angeles Angels manager Phil Nevin, Nevin was one of the three prospects acquired at the 2020 trade deadline from the Colorado Rockies for Givens. Nevin, 25, hit .197 with a .560 OPS in 58 games for Baltimore last season.