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Does acquiring James McCann make sense for the White Sox?

by Nik Gaur

The White Sox and Mets have been popular mock trade partners on social media in recent days due to the two teams’ offseason moves and respective needs. The speculation is largely due to the Mets signing catcher Omar Narvaez, considering they already have top catching prospect Francisco Alvarez as well as returning catchers Tomas Nido and James McCann.

New York, therefore, is likely to move one or both of Nido and McCann before the start of the 2023 season. The White Sox, on the other hand, have been tied to several catchers in offseason rumors due to the uncertainty surrounding Yasmani Grandal‘s knees and the lack of an established backup catcher behind him.

Meanwhile, the Mets may be interested in bullpen help, prospects, or simply getting rid of bad contracts. While payroll is hardly a problem for the club, it still may behoove them to move on from McCann. Alvarez and Narvaez figure to receive the bulk of catching opportunities in 2023, and Nido is a very solid defensive catcher who is still under two years of team control.

Since Nido is an organization’s typical ideal “third catcher,” the Mets may look to trade McCann or even designate him for assignment, as he is still owed over $24 million over the next two seasons. Given his successful run in Chicago and the team’s need for catching depth, the White Sox might be interested.

What would a James McCann trade look like?

Considering that McCann has hit .220/.282/.328 (.610 OPS, 73 wRC+) across his 603 plate appearances with the Mets, he has not been very successful in New York. Moreover, when factoring in his contract and that Nido has been an arguably superior defender and inarguably similar hitter, McCann has little value to the Mets and on the trade market.

However, because the White Sox have enjoyed McCann’s better years, the team could potentially benefit from having him back as another catching option. It would be naive to expect his offense to rebound to its 2019-2020 levels, but McCann developed great chemistry with Lucas Giolito, for example, and would mesh well with Pedro Grifol’s staff in terms of game planning and attention to detail.

Since McCann has negative trade value, a trade with the White Sox would involve other negative-value players such as Leury Garcia or Joe Kelly. Garcia is owed $11 million over the next two years, while Kelly is owed at least $10 million ($9 million salary and $1 million buyout) for 2023. However, it is worth mentioning that Kelly’s strong peripherals (leading to a 3.06 FIP) and apparent bad luck (.382 BABIP against) in 2022 make him an intriguing bounce-back candidate, so his trade value may not be as low as a cursory look at his statistics implies.

In bad contract trades like these, minute differences between players tend to matter less than the money they are owed. Since McCann is owed $24 million to Garcia’s $11 million over the same timeframe, that McCann is arguably slightly-above replacement level while Garcia is slightly below replacement level is likely outweighed by the fact that he is owed more than twice as much money. Therefore, a McCann-for-Garcia swap makes little sense for the White Sox unless the Mets kick in a fair amount of money as well.

Given this dynamic, and that Joe Kelly may actually hold some value, it is also worth looking at other players on the Mets roster that may interest the White Sox.

Someone else who might be shopped by the Mets is former White Sox infielder Eduardo Escobar. Escobar was worth 2.3 fWAR for the Mets in 2022 but may be crowded out of the starting infield due to the emergence of top prospects such as Mark Vientos and Brett Baty. Owed $10 million (including buyout) for 2023, Escobar could interest the White Sox as a potential second base option. He did not play the position often in 2022, but did so as recently as 2021 and would fit the White Sox as a switch-hitter with 20+ home runs in every season (excluding pandemic-shortened 2020) since 2017.

An Escobar and McCann for Garcia framework would still likely be too costly for the White Sox unless the Mets covered a significant amount of one or both outgoing contracts. If the White Sox decided they would be willing to take on some of this money to guarantee a better return, other potential players of note include:

  • LHP David Peterson the 27-year-old starter no longer has a place in the Mets rotation and would provide the White Sox with the lefty starting depth that they lack. As Peterson is controlled through the 2026 season and is coming off his best season yet, he would not come cheap.
  • 2B/3B Luis Guillorme the 28-year-old infielder is a left-handed hitter that can play second base and excels at taking walks and limiting strikeouts. While he offers very, very little power (4 home runs, .067 ISO in 703 plate appearances), Guillorme can play a plus second base and has three more years of team control.
  • RHP Jose Butto the right-handed starting pitcher is the team’s #15 prospect, but like Peterson, does not figure to have many chances to crack the regular rotation. Butto posted a 3.56 ERA across AA and AAA in 2022 and would join Davis Martin as the primary starting pitching depth options for the White Sox, with a real chance to join the rotation in 2024.

If the White Sox are unwilling to take less money back to secure an extra player or two, then a realistic potential framework would include McCann, Eduardo Escobar, and cash (likely enough to make the net result for 2023 close to even) for Leury Garcia and perhaps a throw-in such as Seby Zavala (to maintain catching depth) or a lottery ticket such as Jason Bilous.

If the addition of Escobar makes the proposals too complicated for the teams given the extra money that would be exchanged, then perhaps the Mets would consider attaching Peterson, Guillorme, or Butto to McCann (while still including cash) to entice the White Sox.

What if the teams make a trade that does not involve bad contracts?

The above scenarios all involve the White Sox and Mets swapping bad contracts. If the teams are discussing other trades, then some of the most likely discussions may involve more valuable White Sox relievers such as Liam Hendriks or Kendall Graveman. Hendriks or Graveman alone would not be nearly enough to get the Mets to consider trading ideal fits for the White Sox, such as left-handed hitting second baseman and reigning National League batting champion Jeff McNeil.

At the same time, a framework involving Liam Hendriks (or Kendall Graveman and prospects) might make sense for a player like Carlos Carrasco, who is also a potential odd man out in the Mets rotation and is owed $14 million in 2023. Carrasco is still a reliable starter, amassing 2.4 fWAR over 152 innings for the Mets in 2022, but it is difficult to see the White Sox trading Hendriks or any valuable prospect for a sixth starting pitcher. While it is important to acquire more dependable pitching depth behind an injury-prone rotation, it is easier to see the White Sox using their best trade chips to help the second base or catching situations.

The White Sox and Mets might not end up making a trade, but fanbases of both teams seem to be intrigued by the idea. If something does come to fruition, it is more likely to be of the McCann-and-cash-for-Garcia variety rather than something larger. If the Mets are very motivated to move on from McCann, then it could be worth it for the White Sox to inquire in spite of his contract due to the potential to both get out of one (or more) of their own negative value contracts and to bank that he could serve as at least a passable backup catcher in the city where he was most successful.

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Featured Photo: © Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

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