James McCann has already bounced back from failure. He thinks the ability to do this is one of his main characteristics as a baseball player.
Eager to show off this skill again, he hopes he can help many young Orioles learn it as well. Acquired late last month in a trade to the New York Mets for a future minor leaguer, McCann, 32, will serve as backup to receiver Adley Rutschman in the former top prospect’s first full major league season. and will work with a busy pitching team. with talented but inexperienced arms, many of whom, like McCann, were let go by their previous organizations.
“I’ve been through the lows before,” McCann said in a video call Tuesday. “I had failures at this level, and I found a way to succeed afterwards.”
After five seasons with the Detroit Tigers in which he ranked below league average offensively, McCann was not offered by the only organization he had been with as a professional. He then signed with the Chicago White Sox, with whom he was an All-Star in 2019 and posted a career-high .896 OPS in the shortened 2020 season.
This earned McCann a four-year, $40.6 million contract with the New York Mets, but after struggling through the first two years of the deal, the Mets sent him to Baltimore for what shouldn’t be an important prospect. The Mets agreed to pay $19 million of the $24 million owed to McCann to free up his spot on the roster.
McCann, however, thinks he looks a lot more like the player he was in Chicago than in New York. He pinned his struggles in 2021 on “bad habits” and those in 2022 on bad luck. McCann hit .195 and .282 last year, but his contact quality suggested a .244 average with a .414 save percentage, deficits that were the worst among catchers who put at least 100 balls in play, according to Baseball Savant. In earning Most Valuable Oriole honors and finishing second in the American League Rookie of the Year, Rutschman posted an expected average of .248 and an expected slugging percentage of .411, with actual ratings of .254 and 0.445, respectively.
“Everything was good except the actual results,” McCann said. “It’s very frustrating to go through this, but I also know that in my position, the value I bring on the defensive side is enormous compared to what I can do offensively.”
He’s yet to delve into potential adjustments with the Orioles’ striking staff, with the trade coming in the middle of the holiday season and a family move. But he’s looking forward to joining a team he described as “up and coming,” noting that players from other teams have reached out to praise what Baltimore is building. This especially applies to the group of pitchers he will be working with.
“Hearing about the bullpen that Baltimore has set up here and the youth and just the incredible talent, guys [are] telling me how much they hated having to face the Orioles pitching staff,” McCann said. “I couldn’t see it firsthand, but when I have guys telling me that, it’s a good sign.”
McCann has caught some of the best pitchers in the game, partnering former Cy Young Award winners Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom, David Price and Dallas Keuchel during his career, although none have won the honor during a season when McCann was their drum mate. Still, he’s seen firsthand how they work, and he looks forward to the coming weeks and spring training, when he can share those insights with the Orioles’ young staff and get to know them better in the process. It will also have an impact on the pitch; Baseball Savant ranked former Rutschman backup Robinson Chirinos as the worst framing receiver in the sport, with McCann considered an above average fielder.
“I can give them a lot by sharing what different guys are doing for routines, by sharing different things that I’ve learned in my career,” he said. “One thing you just can’t replace is experience. You can’t take a guy who has only played for one or two years and expect him to have the experience and knowledge that someone who has played for a long time at this level has.
“I think part of my role, whether it’s in Baltimore, whether it’s New York, wherever it is, is to share that expertise, to share what I’ve learned over the course of my career, and I am convinced that this is the job of veteran players, to be shared with young players.
He plans to take this approach with Rutschman, with whom he has not yet had the chance to speak. Prior to 2022 – a season in which McCann noted he “has spent more time on the injured list than in my entire career combined” – he has played at least 105 games in each of the previous six full seasons , but reached that mark in 2023 as saving Rutschman could be a challenge. He should also see time at designated hitter and first base, especially against left-handed pitchers. Before the Orioles acquired Ryan O’Hearn from the Kansas City Royals on Tuesday, McCann’s nine major league games at first base were second among players on Baltimore’s 40-man roster.
“Adley is obviously a very talented player,” McCann said. “He came last year and had a hell of a season. I look forward to working with him, looking forward to offering all kinds of veteran experience to help him with his learning curve, and understanding how to set up a game and manage a game at the big league level .
“I can’t control the games I play, the games I don’t play. All I can control is what kind of teammate I am and what I do when my name is called. I will be ready for whatever happens to me. I look forward to meeting Adley and hope to help him continue to develop.
McCann is one of four players 30 or older that Baltimore has added this offseason, having only three otherwise. The other additions – starting pitcher Kyle Gibson, second baseman Adam Frazier and reliever Mychal Givens – have all spoken of wanting to have veteran influence in a young clubhouse, but McCann’s position will allow him to influence directly the Orioles on both sides of the ball.
“Guy is going through a tough time, I’m a veteran player who’s been through it and been through those times and got through it,” McCann said. “Talking to a young player is a game-changer. Baseball is such a mental game. If you can have a guy who’s been around and had failures, successes, and the ability to share those experiences with a young player, that can often help a young player.