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Appreciating the White Sox James McCann Era

Original Image Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images

After a big week of additions for the White Sox in the form of Lance Lynn and Adam Eaton, the law of averages finally caught up to the South Siders.  In what was an inevitable outcome at the end of the 2020 season, James McCann is leaving the White Sox for a starting gig to call his own at White Sox East in Flushing.

McCann also got a shoutout pretty quickly from one of his new battery mates, evidence of the reputation he has boosted since joining the White Sox before the 2019 season.

As much as I (along with almost any White Sox fan) would have loved for James McCann to be a Sox for life, everyone who was paying attention knew this day was coming.  It’s nothing against McCann, given what he’s meant to the White Sox the last two seasons both in the box score and as a person.  However, when you give a top 3 catcher in baseball the biggest free agent contract in team history, the writing is on the wall.

Since joining the Sox, the career renaissance he’s put together has been nothing short of incredible.  In just two years, his journey has basically gone like this:

  • Non-tendered by a rebuilding Detroit Tigers team after 5 years of -0.1 fWAR play, a 75 wRC+, and a career slash line of .240/.288/.366
  • Signing with the White Sox for one year with the plan of backing up Wellington Castillo
  • A first time All Star in 2019 at the age of 29 with career highs across the board statistically
  • Relegated to back up duties in 2020 after the signing of Yasmani Grandal
  • Putting up even better numbers in 2020 (albeit in only 31 games), making the most of every opportunity as arguably the best backup catcher in recent MLB history
  • Parlaying two career years into 4 years of financial security at over $10MM AAV
James McCann Career Stats, via FanGraphs

That is one hell of a way to turn a career around.

While the White Sox will be fine with their current situation behind the plate, the fact that this parting was inevitable does hurt in what the White Sox are losing.  From a front office point of view, James McCann represents arguably the biggest free agent win of the Rick Hahn era.  Identifying a guy with a below replacement level track record off the non-tender pile and getting an All Star season and two dominant offensive seasons at the hardest position to get production from in two years is nothing short of amazing.

However, the real value McCann brought to this team was who he was as a teammate.  It’s been well documented on how he helped Lucas Giolito ascend to fulfilling his potential over the last two seasons.

The pinnacle of that relationship, obviously, was Giolito’s no hitter earlier this year, where the man of the hour was quick to identify McCann’s role in the historic moment.

And while McCann’s relationship with Giolito was the most publicized of any with the pitching staff, his value as a teammate went beyond that, whether it was facing the media immediately after the White Sox playoff loss despite only appearing due to injury, or going on MLB Network as a free agent to hype up eventual MVP Jose Abreu.

In the end, while McCann’s success was great to watch as a White Sox fan, it only made his exit more and more likely.  Sure, we all held out hope the Sox and McCann could work out some sort of deal to return, but ultimately it was never going to happen.  McCann deserves the starting role and payday he earned, both of which he wouldn’t have gotten in Chicago.  After all, a team with below average payroll can’t commit almost $30MM a year to it’s catching depth chart when there are other needs to be filled.

This isn’t to say that McCann is a better baseball player than Yasmani Grandal, or the White Sox shouldn’t have gotten Grandal.  While I do believe that the numbers clearly show Grandal is the better player, this isn’t about that.  Comparing the two players at a time like this makes no sense to me, since it takes away from appreciating what McCann did in these two years.

While he won’t be around for the mountaintop of this era of White Sox baseball, the real shame of how this all played out, the mark he left on this team is unmistakable.  Hell, for the simplest example just watch every fifth day when Lucas Giolito takes the ball as an ace.  After these past two years, James McCann is a player I’ll always root for.

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