James McCann’s first opportunity to handle his new pitchers will come Wednesday in Port St. Lucie, Fla., but the brainstorming sessions are already underway.
Though the Mets catcher has an entire staff to consider, one name stands above the others. For the 30-year-old McCann to succeed, finding the right comfort level with Jacob deGrom will be imperative.
McCann, who arrived to the Mets in December on a four-year contract worth $40.6 million, spent three seasons catching Justin Verlander with the Tigers, so he can boast of already handling one potential Hall of Fame pitcher. Now he will try to extract the most from deGrom, a two-time National League Cy Young Award winner.
“Jake is a phenomenal pitcher, I think he’s going to rank up there with some of the best I have ever caught,” McCann said on a Zoom call Tuesday, a day before the official reporting date to spring training for Mets pitchers and catchers. “The pressure I think for me is to get onto his page. He’s a guy that has found success and sustained success at that, so it’s my job to come in and figure out how I can make him happy. Figure out how to best make him who he is.”
It’s a process to which McCann’s predecessor, Wilson Ramos, was slow in adjusting. Ramos, known more for his bat than defense when he arrived to the Mets before the 2019 season, fell into early disfavor with deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, to the point both began requesting alternatives behind the plate for their starts.
DeGrom and Ramos eventually meshed enough that the pitcher came on strong in the second half to win his second straight Cy Young. Last season, deGrom finished third, behind Trevor Bauer and Yu Darvish.
“[DeGrom] is not a guy that I’m going to come in and try and change or do something different with,” McCann said. “It’s a guy that I need to get on his page. The best way to do that is to catch him and get to know him and I am really looking forward to learning from him as well, because he has obviously mastered a craft that few can master.”
McCann said he spoke with deGrom during the offseason and had “good” conversations with him Tuesday.
“Me trying to get on his page means I am going to ask him a lot of questions, probably to the point where he gets annoyed by it because the little bit I have dealt with him I know he is a no-funny-business type guy,” McCann said. “So I am sure my questions will eventually annoy him, but it’s just going to be me trying to figure him out.”
McCann’s improvement behind the plate during his two seasons with the White Sox placed him behind only J.T. Realmuto among free-agent options at catcher this offseason. Mets president Sandy Alderson had early discussions with Realmuto’s camp, but decided there was too much risk in waiting for the All-Star catcher and signed McCann. In the end, Realmuto received a five-year contract worth $115 million to remain with the Phillies.
Now playing in perhaps baseball’s toughest division, McCann welcomes the challenge, as part of a lineup that includes Francisco Lindor, Michael Conforto and Pete Alonso. Within the division, the Braves, Nationals and Marlins have all reached the postseason in the last two years, and the Mets might be the most improved team following Steve Cohen’s purchase of the club.
“The NL East is no joke,” McCann said. “You look at the types of players that have been on every team and then the teams that have been assembled, it’s a very tough division and I really like our team here.
“I think that the moves we made this offseason to pair what was already here in-house, I think exciting times are ahead and I really look forward to competing with all my new teammates.”