A strong start for the New York Mets in 2022 leaves little to quibble about, but a lack of hitting from their top catcher presents a dilemma that may eventually force the team’s hand.
When the Mets signed James McCann to a four-year deal ahead of the 2021 season, they did so with the hope that he would parlay a brief period of success in Chicago into a starting role in Queens. A defensively strong catcher who struggled to break through offensively in his first four full seasons, McCann hit .273 with 45 extra-base hits in 2019 and .289 in the shortened-2020 season for the White Sox.
Now in his second season with the Mets, however, McCann has yet to live up to expectations as a hitter.
Like much of the Mets’ lineup, McCann regressed at the plate last season, hitting just .232 with a .643 OPS. He ranked towards the bottom of the league across most advanced analytics, unable to find consistency or drive the ball to the opposite field with regularity like he did in Chicago.
Those struggles have carried over into 2022, with McCann hitting just .196 prior to landing on the injured list in early May with a fractured hamate bone. His recovery timeline is estimated at six weeks.
Yes, McCann has continued providing strong value defensively, with five defensive runs saved and four runners caught stealing over his first 21 games. It’s fair to wonder, however, how much playing time he gets upon returning, based on where he is offensively.
The Mets are going with a mix of Tomas Nido and Patrick Mazeika at catcher in the interim, which makes perfect sense given the familiarity they have with the pitching staff. There’s no urgency to swing a trade for a veteran catcher right now, barring another injury or a significant decline in the team’s performance.
But the Mets will certainly have a decision to make once he is healthy – and timing-wise, that decision coincides closely with the August 2 trade deadline.
Based on his recovery timeline, McCann could return as early as the end of June, although it’s more likely he comes back early/mid-July when accounting for rehab. That gives the Mets just a few weeks to reassess what they have and how to split time amongst their catchers.
And that assessment isn’t isolated to McCann and whether he alone can provide enough offense. Like McCann, Nido hasn’t established himself as a consistent offensive threat to date, while Mazeika – all late-game heroics aside – doesn’t project as the long-term answer.
Assuming the Mets maintain their lead atop the National League East into the summer – or at least remain in the playoff hunt – they should be aggressive in adding a veteran catcher at the deadline if the current situation hasn’t resolved itself by then. Ownership and the front office have made it clear they will make decisions based on what’s best for the team on the field (see Robinson Cano), so adding another catcher to the mix should absolutely be on the table if it improves their chances of winning a championship.
One option they should not consider – for all the clamoring there may be amongst Mets fans – is promoting their prized catching prospect Francisco Alvarez. Ranked among MLB.com's top prospects, Alvarez has cooled off considerably after a strong start to his season with Double-A Binghamton.
Considering he is still just 20 years old and had only 141 professional games under his belt entering 2022 – all at Class High-A or lower – Alvarez needs more playing time before ascending the farm system any further. The Mets must be prudent and not rush him to the major leagues this season.
Ultimately, there isn’t reason to panic at present over the Mets’ catching situation given the team’s success. But if the Mets continue getting below-average run production from their in-house catching options, they should be aggressive and acquire a veteran to help down the stretch run.